Young Men and Young Women Discern Their Paths at Quo Vadis and Fiat Days

Boys gather July 17 during the Quo Vadis pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine, Doylestown. Father Mark Searles is at front left. The Fiat Days girls made the pilgrimage July 16. (Photos by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

When a good number of young men and young women of the Diocese of Allentown are asked, “What did you do on your summer vacation?” the answer will include attending “Quo Vadis” (for young men) and “Fiat Days” (for young women), vocation camps sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Vocations in conjunction with the St. Andrew Committee.    

“This is our largest camp so far,” said Father Mark Searles, noting for the first time more than 100 applications were received for Quo Vadis and Fiat Days.    

Father Searles is Diocesan director of vocations promotion and chaplain of Allentown Central Catholic High School (ACCHS). Father Christopher Butera is Diocesan director of seminarian formation and chaplain of Catholic Campus Ministry at Lehigh University, Bethlehem.

The camps ran concurrently July 15-19 at DeSales University, Center Valley, both with the theme, “Take Courage, Do Not Be Afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

This marked the sixth year for Quo Vadis and the fifth for Fiat Days.

Quo Vadis and Fiat Days were open to young men and women ages 14 to 18, including the newly graduated. The event included time for personal and group prayer, Mass and other Catholic devotions, talks by priests and religious sisters, sports and other activities, in addition to interacting with seminarians and sisters of various religious communities.

Quo Vadis gave young men the chance to participate in activities rooted in prayer, catechesis, evangelization and mentoring.

Sister Rose Bernadette Mulligan, vocation directress of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), Immaculata, coordinated Fiat Days.

Fiat Days were an opportunity for young women to spend a few days deepening their faith, interacting with religious sisters, and learning to discern God’s call in their lives and their vocation, whether religious/consecrated life, marriage or a dedicated single life in service to Christ and his Church.

Bishop Alfred Schlert opened Quo Vadis and Fiat Days as main celebrant and homilist of an afternoon Mass July 15 in Connolly Chapel, followed by a barbecue dinner cook-out with participants, parents and their siblings at DeSales University Center. That evening boys and girls joined together for a Rosary Procession and Mary Crowning.

New this year was a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine, Doylestown. The girls went July 16 and the boys July 17.

The combined activities of Quo Vadis and Fiat were the opening Mass and barbecue cook-out, daily Masses, holy hours, Rosary Procession and Mary Crowning, Outdoor Vocation Stations of the Cross, and shared meals for lunch and dinner.

Deacon John Maria, transitional deacon at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown, led the Outdoor Vocation Stations of the Cross with prayers during each station for vocations. Seminarian Philip Maas was the server.

In addition, Mark and Megan Quaranta offered the talk “Fruit of Prayer: Marriage” to Quo Vadis and Fiat Days participants.

Celebrants of the daily Masses were: Father Butera; newly ordained Father John Hutta, assistant pastor of Sacred Heart, West Reading and Holy Rosary, Reading, and chaplain at Reading Hospital; Father John Pendzick, pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall; and Father David Anthony, assistant pastor of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton.

Clergy leading holy hours were: Father Searles; Father Allen Hoffa, pastor of St. Joseph, Summit Hill; Deacon Giuseppe Esposito, transitional deacon at St. Catharine of Siena, Reading; and Deacon Zachary Wehr, transitional deacon at St. Jane Frances de Chantal, Easton.

Priests available for confession at the holy hours were: Father Daniel Kravatz, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More, Allentown; Father Anthony Mongiello, pastor of St. Anne, Bethlehem; Father Angel Garcia-Almodovar, pastor of St. Margaret, Reading; Father John Gibbons, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception BVM, Allentown; Father George Winne, assistant pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Conception BVM; Father James Harper, assistant pastor of St. Thomas More, Allentown; and Father Searles.

“Quo Vadis and Fiat Days 2018 were a great success, and this year it was a joy to welcome over 100 retreatants to the campus of DeSales University for the four-day retreat. We have grown every summer so far, and the young people bring a unique vibrancy and diversity from many of the parishes and from all five counties of our Diocese,” said Father Searles.

“It is a blessing to see the youth come together in a spirit of Christian fraternity as many of our returning retreatants look forward to seeing friends that they have made during previous summers from across the Diocese to share their high school experiences, laughs, fun, and most especially to pray together and to grow in a relationship with Christ.

“These young people learn some powerful tools in growing as young ladies and gentlemen with hearts open to discerning God’s call for their lives. It is especially beautiful to see our teenagers look forward to some quality time with our Lord in the celebration of Mass and Eucharistic adoration.

“Those moments of silence and prayer together as the young, vibrant future of our Church are very powerful in conforming the retreatants’ hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and listening to his invitation to grow and to follow where he leads.”
Father Searles said the boys in Quo Vadis especially love to get to know and spend time with our seminarians and priests from across the Diocese.

“This helps them to understand the discernment process and what seminary formation looks like, and opens the door to a more mature and educated process of their own discernment,” said Father Searles.

“As a fruit of Quo Vadis many of our ‘Come and See’ Weekend retreats at the seminary have also filled up as the boys look forward to seeing the next step in the discernment toward the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”

Father Searles said this year talks and reflections focused on the theme “Take courage, do not be afraid.”

“These inspiring words from Jesus in Sacred Scripture were lived out by the profound example of St. Pope John Paul II and so we were blessed with a reflection on his life by Monsignor Ed O'Connor and a pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine in Doylestown, where he is fondly remembered and depicted in a beautiful statue on the shrine grounds,” said Father Searles.

“St. Pope John Paul II is still a powerful example to our young people today of courageous discernment in the face of adversity and seeking to follow God’s will every day of our lives with the help and prayers of our Blessed Mother Mary.”

“Striving for Integrity”

Father Keith Laskowski, presenting “Striving for Integrity” during a July 16 holy hour and night prayer in Connolly Chapel, told Quo Vadis and Fiat Days participants to seize “this opportunity you have for fun and enjoyment, and to reflect on where God may be calling you in life.”

Following that call is “an amazing adventure,” said    Father Laskowski, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, Easton.

Father Searles presided at the holy hour and Father Laskowski offered the reflection.

Father Laskowski recalled as a sophomore at DeSales University in 1993, he went to World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, where the future St. Pope John Paul II often told the youth to “Be not afraid” and “trust the Lord.”

“The packed Mile High Stadium was rockin’ out with ‘John Paul II we love you.’ It was surreal. Then the Pope got out of his little popemobile and said, ‘John Paul II he loves you.’”

When the Pope said “Christ expects great things from young people” it struck a chord in Father Laskowski’s heart and mind, prompting him to ask God, “How might you want to use my life?” For Father Laskowski, his journey led him to the priesthood.

Father Laskowski underscored the importance of prayer, and told the young people “sometimes the Lord wants us to be still with him,” referring to spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. “The same Jesus of 2,000 years ago is present to us in a very mystical way.”

Urging participants to open their hearts to the Lord, Father Laskowski said in the evening’s Gospel from Matthew Jesus says, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

“He wanted us to know we’re never alone.”

“Do you believe it’s not just a piece of bread? It’s Jesus,” Father Laskowski said of the Holy Eucharist.

“Ask Jesus to help reflect his love in your life.”

Father Laskowski said striving is an action word, and integrity comes from a word meaning wholeness and unity. He asked participants if how they feel on the inside matches how they are on the outside. “Is there a peace there? There’s a biblical word for peace – shalom.”

Father Laskowski said God created us with integrity, and sin caused its disintegration. “Jesus came to heal us so our insides can match our outsides, living as he wants us to live.”

“We try to live our lives to follow Christ but we don’t always do it well,” Father Laskowski said, suggesting four disciplines to help, beginning with a regular prayer life. “Be with the Lord, take time each day to speak to him and let his words speak to us.”

Also, the Sunday Eucharist. “Pray, listen to God’s word and receive the Holy Eucharist,” he said.
Father Laskowski encouraged participants to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which “the Lord brings his healing grace into our lives.”

“Pope Francis said, ‘God never tires of forgiving us. We tire of asking for forgiveness,’” Father Laskowski said.

He also urged the youth to have friends that support them and with whom they can share their thoughts.

“Be who you are and be that well,” Father Laskowski said, quoting St. Francis de Sales.

“Jesus wants to help us grow. Use your life to be a visible sign of his love in this world.

“Say to Jesus, ‘You are here to encourage me and give me strength.’”

Father Laskowski said participants may follow the Lord as a married or single person, or a priest or religious sister.

“To be a follower of Jesus, strive for that integrity.”

“Jesus reminds us this is what it is to love: ‘This is my body and blood, given for you,’” Father Laskowski said.

He said Satan wants to entice us and wants us to turn away from the Lord, which will lead us to sadness. “There’s a spiritual battle – follow Christ.”

“Striving for integrity is a process, a lifelong process.”

Father Laskowski shared his formula for Pray – Praise, Repent, Ask and Yield, meaning to be still and allow the Lord to speak to our hearts – and led participants in prayer following these steps.

“Fruit of Prayer: Marriage”

“We gave ourselves to each other totally and freely when we got married, including being open to children,” Megan Quaranta said presenting the July 17 evening talk, “Fruit of Prayer: Marriage” with her husband Mark, to Quo Vadis and Fiat Days participants.

The Quarantas are parishioners of St. Thomas More, Allentown.

But after the graduates of Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Maryland were married, Megan was diagnosed with cancer. The doctor wanted to prescribe the birth control pill, as Megan could not receive chemotherapy if she became pregnant. The couple would not agree to go on birth control, so Megan received a treatment she was told would be less effective.

But the treatment was working. They quit their jobs and moved to Virginia, “discerning where God wanted to call us,” Mark said.

Their baby Rose was born in 2016, after which Megan had a CT scan, which she couldn’t have during her pregnancy.

“The doctor was so surprised that the cancer was practically gone. She said the treatment shouldn’t have been that effective and said, ‘you can call it a miracle if you want,’” Megan recalled.

A miracle is exactly what the couple called it.

When Rose was 4 months old, Mark and Megan took her to World Youth Day 2016 in Poland.

“It was a trip of thanksgiving for us,” Megan said, noting how thankful they were for their daughter and Megan’s prognosis.

While there, they also attended Mass at Czestochowa and experienced the homeland of St. Pope John Paul II.

Megan was supposed to get a CT scan when they returned – but instead they had a positive pregnancy test. The family moved back to Megan’s home state of Pennsylvania, and John Colby was born in 2017. Megan’s next CT scan showed the cancer was 100 percent gone.

“You can’t look at this situation and not see God’s hand,” Mark said.

By choosing not to use birth control, which meant no chemotherapy, “We made a decision for life,” Mark said. “Now we have a family of four.”

“We haven’t had any big yes’s lately to God,” Megan said. “We’ve been living our lives doing everyday little yes’s,” Megan said. “Like Mother Teresa said, ‘doing small things with great love.’”

The couple said in today’s culture there is an attack on marriage, with couples living together and having children outside of marriage.

Explaining why they take marriage so seriously, Megan highlighted God’s grace. “Only by his grace could we see the beauty of marriage.”

“And the sacraments are very real. They are tangible – we receive graces in the Eucharist and confession,” Megan said.

“Marriage is a real sacrament too, and you can receive graces to help you through life.”

“Marriage is a decision, discernment and vocation,” Mark said. “Marriage, the priesthood and religious life are all done through sacrifice.”

“Even when you’re in a vocation, it’s a continual renewal every day. It takes courage – be not afraid,” Mark said, whether in marriage or religious life.

He encouraged the youth to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:32: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

As Mark and Megan fielded questions, they said when they were dating as students at Mount St. Mary’s they went to Mass together.

“We struggled with chastity at times, but you just have to keep going,” Megan said. “We had an open dialogue about where we were spiritually and in our relationship.”

“We also did spiritual reading – it doesn’t have to be heavy stuff,” Mark said. “We read six books about marriage together.”

The couple see friends now who have no faith in their marriage.

“Having faith be part of a relationship is key,” Megan said. “If you marry a non-Catholic it’s harder, but it can work.”
Mark and Megan dated for four years, were engaged for one year and have now been married almost four years.

As the presentation drew to a close, Father Searles made everyone smile as he screened some photos he downloaded from social media of Mark and Megan. He also showed photos of THE A.D. TIMES photographer John Simitz and his wife Eileen, who will celebrate 50 years of marriage Friday, Aug. 24.

Quo Vadis

Presentations offered during Quo Vadis were “God’s Call?: Negative Fear vs. Holy Fear,” Father Bernard Ezaki, assistant pastor of St. Jane Francis de Chantal Easton; “Am I Worthy?” Father Thomas Bortz, pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola, Sinking Spring; “Striving for Integrity,” Father Laskowski; and “Courageous Confession,” Father Searles.

Also, “Totus Tuus: Totally Yours,” Monsignor Edward O’Connor, pastor of St. Patrick, Pottsville; “Mary Untier of Knots,” Father Hoffa; and “Take Courage: Do Not Be Afraid,” Father Andrew Gehringer, pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem.
Activities included morning and night prayer, liturgy of the hours, rosary walk and fellowship.

The camp included a bonfire and fellowship, small group meetings, Ultimate Frisbee Tournament, outdoor lawn games, indoor games, softball game and an ice cream and water ice social.

Fiat Days

Presentations offered during Fiat Days were “Why Are You Here, Elijah?” Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC) Sister Marie Raymond Gazo; “The Courage to Be a Saint,” IHM Sister Mary Jo Ely; “Something More: Daring to Be Different as a Young Catholic,” postulant Kathy Stimpfle; “Who We Are: A Vocation Story Through the Eyes of Disney’s Moana,” postulant Jenny O’Neill; and “The Battle of Good and Evil,” postulant Rachael Wilson.

The postulants who offered presentations were from the IHM and Sisters of Christian Charity (SCC) communities.

Activities included morning and night prayer, rosary walk and fellowship at the fire.

The camp included icebreaker activities, small group meetings, storytime “A Wrinkle in Time,” recreation/story time, crafts, outdoor activities, an ice cream and water ice social, and screening of the movie “Moana.”