By Fr. Vien Nguyen, SDB
THE RETURN OF CAMP ST. FRANCIS
When the campers show up, the sun breaks through the sky and the sound of music accompanies the laughter of kids, Camp Saint Francis becomes alive again.
After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the summer program at Camp St. Francis was open once again. Usually, the summer program lasts four weeks, but to test out the waters, Bro. Khoa Luong, SDB and Fr. Vien Nguyen, SDB gathered a handful of young Salesians, young adults, and high school youth to help animate a week-long summer camp program from July 10th -16th.
A new experience
What started out to be 70 or so registered campers, ended up being over 100 campers from all over the West Coast—Oakland, Stockton, San Jose, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, and Seattle. The news about Camp Saint Francis reopening spread fast. The campers who have been to camp Saint Francis and have had a great experience with the Salesians invited friends and relatives to join them in this overnight summer camp. Thank you to the Salesians and lay people who have been concerned regarding this beautiful mission to serve many young people around the province.
This year, some of the regular summer activities were offered once again, like nature, outdoor sports, archery, arts and crafts, and skateboarding. Camp Saint Francis also created opportunities for the campers to learn about their culture and heritage and, at the same time, explore other cultures through song, music, art, and of course food. There was no doubt that the food was abundant. The food was inspired from different parts of the world, from Asia to Europe and America. At the various meals, the campers had to guess the different meats, spices, and other condiments that make up each dish. For some, it was the first time they had ever tried certain regional cuisines. Aside from the regular three meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, parent volunteers got creative with the three snacks each day. Whether it was pandan waffles or a banana rice pudding, campers were more than satisfied with good fashion food.
The advantage of Camp Saint Francis is to have its’ own private beach. However, the riptides at Camp were way too strong, and without an experienced county lifeguard, campers and counselors alike, made the mile and a half trek to Manresa State Beach. The sight of over a hundred kids descending upon the beach is something not many beachgoers were ready for or even comprehended. Still, after seeing the frivolity of the campers jumping waves, making sandcastles, and digging for sand crabs, others at the beach had to smile at the innocence of kids having fun.
Overnight Camp, where imagination and creativity happen
One of the great traditions of any Salesian residence camp is night activities. This year’s campers were treated to the creativity and innovation of Fr. Joe Nguyen SDB. The galactic adventure began on the first night, where campers were introduced to a space portal that would allow them to cross the multi-verse through time, space, and history. Throughout the week, campers were led to ancient lands and met up with beings from other universes while playing traditional games such as tag, scavenger hunt, capture the flag, campfire, and more. One of the camp favorites was the carnival. Here counselors dressed as aliens in crazy costumes leading games and even a fun drink station made up of various concoctions. The week ended with an out of this world talent show. Spoofing a favorite variety show, Paris By Night, counselors introduced performances by campers with a Camp St. Francis twist. All in all, these night activities helped celebrate the imagination of each camper. Themes of teamwork, diversity, and self-empowerment were at the center of each day. These themes reemphasized the virtues of the day that were echoed in the Good Mornings, liturgies, and Good Nights. Campers were able to experience comprehensive Salesian Youth Ministry found in the Oratory experience.
Salesian Spiritual component and the family spirit
Camp Saint Francis is well known for its’ family spirit. The summer camp of 2022 did not disappoint its’ campers and their families. The counselors took care of the campers, and the campers respected the counselors. The older ones looked after, the younger ones. Each camper learned how to be independent and, at the same time, to care for others. All the members treated one another with love and respect as one family. Cabin clean-up time was an example of when every member of the cabin worked together to clean their cabin. The presence of many parents during Camp also contributed to that family spirit. They came to show their support and dropped off some donations for the program such contributions made a difference to the Camp.
Campers were introduced to Salesian spirituality through the daily morning prayers, liturgies, and Good Nights. Each day touched on a key theme that helped the campers explore their faith and relationship with God. Different cabins helped with the animation of readings, altar serving, liturgical environment, and music. For some, praying in their mother tongue was more comfortable and familiar. Each night campers entrusted themselves to our Blessed Mother and prayed three Hail Mary’s—a tradition many came to embrace as their own.
The end and the new beginning.
“I don’t want to go home, mom,” a nine-year-old girl was in tears, telling her mother how she loved being at Camp with her new friends. One week passed by fast, and as Camp ended, the tired eyes of the counselors were met with tears of grateful campers who did not want to leave the hallowed grounds of Camp St. Francis. Lifelong friendships were begun, and pinky-swear promises to “see you next year” were made. While many had a difficult time articulating their experience into words, it was very evident that the week-long experience of Camp was life-transforming. As the counselors finished cleaning up Camp and ended the final day together in the chapel to reflect and give thanks, many commented on how much their own faith and spirituality had grown through this unique experience of accompanying young people. For some, this was their introduction to the Salesian experience. For all of them, they grew deeper in their relationship with God and learned that God loved them through the many people who God had placed in their lives, especially in the young people they had served. The new journey with God has begone that day.
With grateful hearts, Camp St. Francis 2022 has concluded, and now we look to next year. In the meantime, we place in the mantle of our Blessed Mother, Mary, the Help of Christians, all the young people, campers and counselors, and dedicated parent volunteers. Through her intercession, we pray that God continue to protect, bless, and accompany each of them until we all meet again in the summer of 2023!