For the last 4 years, my family and I have driven across the country (23 hours) to attend a week long family camp at Catholic Familyland near Steubenville Ohio. The question I initially asked myself is why and you may be wondering the same thing. As a Catholic Father, I want to raise my children to be strong in their faith, not only in head knowledge, but in a deep personal relationship with our Lord. To this end, we are very involved in our parish, are friends with many other good Catholic families and take every opportunity not only to meet the minimum requires of being Catholic (whatever that means), but also to integrate our faith into every aspect of our lives. Our faith is not something we do only on Sundays, but something that shapes our everyday lives. It is within this context that we decided that travelling to Ohio for a Catholic family camp was an important part of living out our Catholic faith within our family.
I had heard about Catholic Familyland (CFL) before, and I figured it was like Disneyland, but with a religious foundation, and it was pretty far away and probably was not worth the effort to make the trip out there. And besides, we already did a lot of Catholic stuff in Texas, we attended Fullness of Truth Conferences, we were part of a vibrant homeschool community with lots of interactions with other families. and we have a great parish, what could CFL have to offer us that we couldn’t find locally? We put the trip to Ohio on hold for a number of years and forgot about it until I saw a post on our homeschool email list. A mother in another city wrote an email to her homeschool group answering the question about how she survived public school and became such a strong Catholic. Her story of the transformation within her family and extended family at Catholic familyland was almost unbelievable. After reading her story I felt compelled to see this place for myself.
We signed up for the next Holy Family Fest at Catholic Familyland. The drive from Texas is about 23 hours, so we planned to make a few stop along the way. By the time we arrived at Catholic Familyland we had already been on the road for a few weeks in our RV. As we pulled into Holy Family Park, we were greeted by colorful balloons, young adults bearing gifts of candy for the kids and warm smiles. This greeting was not an anomaly, but the norm. Everyone we met was happy to be there, genuinely interested in meeting you and getting to know you and your family and sharing the week with you. The week was filled with spiritual activities such as daily Mass, inspirational talks, Adoration, communal prayers and second to none programs for the kids. There was also no shortage of non-religious actives such as softball, volleyball, basketball and tennis tournaments, family olympics, the St. John the Baptist water slide, nature hikes, horseback rides and swimming.
What struck me about the holy family fest was not so much the amenities or activities available, but the environment that the Apostolate for Family Consecration staff is able to create for those families who attend. When speaking to the staff and reading through the literature, I discovered one of the goals of creating Catholic Familyland was to create the perfect Catholic parish for attendees to experience and then take back to their own communities and begin to transform them one family at a time. It is not enough to talk about what a Catholic community, centered around your parish, should look like, you need to experience it. I like to refer to it as the integrated Catholic life. We work, we study, we participate in the life of the Church and there it is all integrated together into one life. At Catholic Familyland, every day at 3pm in the midst of the sports tournaments, the hiking, the bike riding and swimming, all activity stops for 10 minutes to recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. All afternoon there are priests hearing confession amongst the hustle and bustle of the camp and it is just considered a normal activity. The conversations between people range from topics related to the spiritual life, to raising kids, to your best cooking recipes or what is going on with your favorite sports teams. For us, even though we haven’t had any friends from our community who have joined us in Ohio, we feel very much at home when we are there and so do our kids. It may not be heaven, but it is close, you see people from all walks of life, with all sorts of abilities and physical and mental limitations, but everyone is accepted and loved for who they are.
After our first year of attendance, we asked the kids if they wanted to come back next year, and everyone one of them, all nine, said yes. They even went as far as saying that if we can only take one trip each year, that they wanted it to be to Catholic Familyland in Ohio. Our second oldest even gave up her summer this year to volunteer on the Service Core. I don’t think the attraction was just the kids programs, or the sports, or the religious activities, I think it was the love they experienced. This year was a little different for my wife and I, our youngest is now 5 and is fairly independent, so we had more of an opportunity to visit with other adults and get to know some of them. In the past we met people and started conversations but rarely finished them or developed any lasting bonds, but this year we met and visited with lots of people including Shiela and her husband. We usually have no problem finding common interests with other families, but I must say I was a bit surprised to find out that Shiela and I were both bloggers with Catholic Sistas. It truly is a small Catholic world.
::See Shiela’s companion post here::