CatholicFest mixes camping, encounter with truth, beauty

For the past three years now, Catholic families in the Diocese of Green Bay and beyond have been marking their calendars for July 4, and not just because it’s Independence Day.

Jul 24, 2014

GREEN BAY, WIS: For the past three years now, Catholic families in the Diocese of Green Bay and beyond have been marking their calendars for July 4, and not just because it’s Independence Day. Since 2012, families have camped out by Kangaroo Lake near Bailey’s Harbor, Wisc., for CatholicFest, an event over the holiday weekend that offers a chance to pray, meet other Catholic families, and experience truth, beauty and goodness in the arts.

“Society is attacking the family,” said CatholicFest director Jen Lowery.

“But I think CatholicFest seeks to really minister to families….it’s just to come up and experience the good, the true and the beautiful through those mediums and to be together.”

Families register online for a camping spot on the grounds of the St Joseph formation centre. Once they arrive, their schedule includes prayer and Mass, as well as presentations by Catholic artists on film, art or literature. In the evening, up-and-coming Catholic artists give concerts on the back lawn.

Lowery, 31, helped direct the first CatholicFest as well as the most recent one. The event is an outreach of Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE), founded in 2002 as a part-summer camp, part-retreat ministry that brings young adult staff members together to live in community and host various high school and young adult expeditions of prayer, community life, camping and outdoor activities.

Simplicity and prayer are the bread and butter of CYE and all its apostolates, including CatholicFest.

“You’re up here, you’re away from the world, and the three constants are morning and evening prayer, Eucharistic adoration and Mass,” Lowery said. “Everything else is icing on the cake.”

CatholicFest was started as a way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the CYE ministry. Instead of high schoolers or young adults, Fr Quinn wanted to serve the families of the Green Bay Diocese while promoting Catholic culture through the arts.

Because the call to simplicity is so foundational to CYE, there is a minimum of advertisement and publicity for their events. Lowery made a few amateur YouTube videos on her laptop for CatholicFest. Beyond that, it’s mostly personal invitation.

“Basically CYE has been around for 12 years because of personal invitation,” Lowery said. “It’s all about the invitation and the encounter. The first two words of our mission statement are ‘to encounter’ so there’s already an invitation there for action.”

Personal invitation is why Carlene and Christopher Martens have been bringing their still-growing family of five up to CatholicFest since its beginning.

“Fr Quinn celebrated Mass at the Cathedral and afterwards my husband decided to take our son up to meet him,” Carlene said, “And as David was shaking Fr Quinn’s hand, Father was like, ‘Do you like fishing? Do you like camping? Then you gotta come to CatholicFest!’”

“I have five kids running around right now. I don’t see a single one of them and I am totally at peace with that, and not in a bad way,” Martens said. “There are so many families here, I know that the moms are always looking out for kids no matter what. Everybody’s looking out for everybody else. It’s just such a family community here.”

Carlene’s oldest son David, almost 9, likes the freedom he has at CatholicFest, to roam around with his friends and play soccer. Her daughters love the concerts.

“They are looking forward to the band tonight, being able to get up and dance, that’s their favourite part,”

Martens said. Martens said she and her husband enjoy the family atmosphere and being around other Catholic parents with similar experiences to theirs.

Steve and Lily Simmons are converts to the Catholic faith who brought their family up to CatholicFest for the second time this year. The fellowship and community at CatholicFest is what keeps them coming back.

“With us being converts, we have felt alone a lot in that because some people have been part of the Church for so long that it’s just what they do,” Lily said. “So, coming from the Protestant background, so much of our experience was community and fellowship, and that’s been something that we’ve been so hungry for, so this is something that’s been an awesome blessing for that reason.”

The ability to get to know people on a deeper level is something that CatholicFest offers that parish life often does not, Steve said.

“We like coming up here, camping for a few days, having it surround around the Mass, coupled with a social environment where we just spend time with each other and get to know each other on a more profound level than just coffee and a donut and fundraising and banquets at church,” Steve said.

The perpetual adoration available in the chapel all weekend also blesses the families present and creates a palpable presence of grace, Steve said.

“It definitely lays a spiritual cover,” he said. “It’s not just when you’re in the chapel, it’s on the whole grounds, along with Mass.”

Hannah Rathsack, a CYE summer staff member for the past two years, said she would encourage Catholics and non-Catholics alike to come to CatholicFest.

“This event looks entertaining to others because of the events that take place but it is so much more than that,” Rathsack said. “God is working through the entire event and can change hearts.” -- CNA/EWTN

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