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placeholder August 8, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 14   •   Oakland, CA

Above, seminarians of the Diocese of Oakland field questions from the young men participating in the Quo Vadis Camp. Left, Knights of Columbus of St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Antioch prepare lunch for 60 people during the event at the diocesan youth retreat center in Lafayette. Knights from various parishes served during the four days of camp.

How to tell people: 'I want to be a priest'

How do you tell your friends you want to become a priest?

Better yet, how do you tell your girlfriend?

A panel of 15 seminarians fielded questions from the 43 teenagers seated in front of them in a big, comfortable room at the Diocesan Youth Retreat Center in Lafayette. They answered with candor, peace and a sense of humor.

The four days of Quo Vadis camp, which began July 10 and ended three days later, included many opportunities for the teenagers to talk with the seminarians, in groups large and small.

The camp days also gave the seminarians, who during the school year attend seminaries in Menlo Park, Oregon and Boston, and those who are working in parishes, the opportunity to spend time together.

It was a time for brotherhood.

It was the second season for Quo Vadis — Latin for Where are you going? — Camp. The 2016 edition drew twice the number of campers at the inaugural event. Some campers returned for their second summer.

The days were full with a program of team-building physical activities, directed by veteran youth minister and high school teacher Adam Chaffey, and talks by priests and seminarians coordinated by Rev. Neal Clemens, vocations director of the Diocese of Oakland.

The seminarians were the hit of the camp, according to the campers.

Anthony Ramirez, 13, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord, praised the "very inspiring speeches."

"Jimmy inspired me the most," he said, referring to second-year seminarian Jimmy Jimenez, an Oakland native who gave a no-holds-barred story of his call to the priesthood.

"He has a big, beautiful story," Anthony said.

Many of the campers were invited to attend the camp by priests in their parishes, or neighboring parishes.

The campers were nourished daily by volunteer teams of cooks from the Knights of Columbus. Tuesday's chefs were from St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish in Antioch. One aspect of Peter Degl'Innocenti's elected role with the Knights is to foster vocations. "What better way to do that?" he asked, as 61 people were enjoying the lunch the Knights had prepared for them. (Lasagna was in the dinner menu.)

Degl'Innocenti recalled the first time he had heard about vocations. He was a first-grader at St. Paul School in San Francisco. The priest entered the classroom, and told the Sister who was teaching, "I want to see all the boys in the hall now."

The little guy thought they were all in big trouble.

Instead, the priest said, Degl'Innocenti recalled, "I want to know how many of you have thought about the priesthood." There were no immediate takers. "So you think priests float down from the sky?"

"I was that close," to responding, Degl'Innocenti said. But he wondered if answering in the affirmative would mean he'd have to leave first grade right then.

Events such as Quo Vadis Camp, he said, "help to get them thinking about it."

"It's great to hang out with the seminarians and other people who share the same faith," said Anthony Figueroa, 14, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood.

First-time camper Sergio Diaz, 13, of St. Anthony Parish in Oakley, said the camp gave him a chance to "spend time with those who share the faith." It was also a time, he said, "to really think, do you want to be a priest, or what is your vocation."

Clem Bushmore, one of the Knights of Columbus, noted that Quo Vadis camp gives the young men an opportunity to discern an interest in the priesthood.

"No high school guidance counselor" is going to bring up vocations, he said.

Seminarian Mark Tannehill said he was "trying to be an instrument in God's hands," as he talked candidly about his vocation with the youngsters.

"I just want to be open," said Joseph Mullen, 18, a parishioner at St. Margaret Mary in Oakland, and soon-to-be biology major at Diablo Valley College who plans to be an MRI technician.

Peter Nguyen, 13, said he had been to different camps but found at Quo Vadis, "I get to experience more." The parishioner at St. Anthony Parish in Oakland also said, "The vocation stories are interesting."

Isaias De Leon, 17, said he came back to the camp because he liked it last year, "It was amazing," said the senior at De La Salle High School in Concord, "and the stories are interesting."

The campers learned, for example, that the seminarians have their personal vehicles — including motorcycles — and do receive a monthly stipend — which some likened to an allowance — to cover the insurance, which was seen favorably by the audience.

Check www.oakdiocese.org/vocations/priesthood/quo-vadis early next year for registration information and dates for Quo Vadis Camp 2017.

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