MONROE, Wash. (CNS) — Hiking before dawn to pray at sunrise was one of the memorable experiences Brian Garcia and Andrew Roemhildt carried home from Quo Vadis Days at Camp Hamilton in Monroe in June.
“It was nice to grow a deeper relationship with God and talk with a lot of great people,” said Roemhildt, 17, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Vancouver, Washington, who was attending the vocations-focused camp for the second time.
“It made me look at priests differently and the ministry they do,” he added.
Quo Vadis — Latin for “Where are you going?” — is an invitation from the Seattle Archdiocese’s vocations office for young men in high school to learn more about the priesthood, deepen their faith and discover how to hear God’s call in their lives.
“We encourage discernment and incorporate God into that through prayer and how God is acting in their life,” said Father Justin Ryan, archdiocesan vocations director.
Because of the pandemic, this was the first Quo Vadis Days since 2019. This year, the program was limited to young men in grades 9-12, although they made an exception for a few graduating seniors who wanted “one more Quo Vadis experience before going off to college,” Father Ryan said.
The 37 participants, representing 24 parishes, were joined at Camp Hamilton by three priests — Fathers Ryan, Tyler Johnson and Lou Cunningham — and 10 seminarians.
Plenty of activity was packed into the June 27-29 camp: talks, prayer, confession, daily Mass — including one celebrated by Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo — and small group discussions, along with hikes, meals and games.
Roemhildt said the three-day camp exposed him to new faith experiences, including Holy Hour — the devotional tradition of spending an hour in Eucharistic adoration — and Liturgy of the Hours.
It was the first Quo Vadis Days experience for Garcia, 14, an altar server at St. Louise de Marillac Parish in Bellevue, Washington.
Garcia said he enjoyed listening to and talking with the priests and seminarians about their experiences and “what it takes to be a priest.” He also learned more about how they live and their responsibility to “care for the church and the community.”
Father Derek Lappe and Father Hans Olson launched the first Quo Vadis Days in Vancouver in 2003 for young men in the archdiocese. Modeled after a program in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, the inaugural Quo Vadis Days drew 10 participants from parishes in southwestern Washington.
By 2005, the event moved northwest to the Puget Sound area, drawing 80 participants from around the archdiocese who were joined by 17 priests and eight seminarians. By 2019, the number of youths had doubled to “all we could accommodate,” Father Olson told the Northwest Catholic, Seattle’s archdiocesan magazine.
It’s impressive, he said, to see the number of priests and seminarians who give their time, support and enthusiasm to the Quo Vadis program, along with support from local Serra Clubs that promote vocations.
Today, Quo Vadis Days continues the founding traditions, focusing on priesthood and prayer, with some fun in the mix.
Father Olson said his fondest memories from previous events are the campers’ “impressive reflections on God’s faith and his call in their life” during discussions following the campfire rosary and prayer.
“Ultimately, what we wanted young guys to do was answer God’s call,” he said. “Broadly, the goal was finding God’s call in their life and his influence, to find joy in the Mass and the church’s life.”
That’s what Matthew Ho found by attending three Quo Vadis Days.
“My first two years I wasn’t very close to the church,” said Ho, a member of St. Stephen the Martyr Parish in Renton, Washington, who also spends time at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in nearby Tukwila.
But during the pandemic, he studied the Bible and was confirmed. When he returned to Quo Vadis Days this year, Ho found good friends, met like-minded people who were open to deep discussion and made a discovery: “I truly love my religion,” he said.
Ho, who will be too old to participate in Quo Vadis Days next year, encourages other young men to attend — and all young people to stay close to the church after confirmation.
“I want to share with other people that they have a path to follow,” he said.
Ho, Garcia and Roemhildt said they don’t see priesthood in their futures, but Father Olson said some participants do.
Although the archdiocese doesn’t track the number of participants who become priests, Father Ryan said at least two priests in the archdiocese speak of the impact Quo Vadis Days had on their vocations. One is Father Cunningham, who is priest administrator at Sacred Heart Parish in Enumclaw and was at Camp Hamilton in June.
Father Cunningham attended Quo Vadis Days yearly starting in 2005.
“It was great to be around priests who wanted to teach us how to pray to talk at our level and spur us forward, calling us to something,” he said.
One summer he swam over to the vocations director and asked for an application to become a seminarian.
“I knew from that young age it was something that really stuck in my heart,” said Father Cunningham, who entered the seminary after graduating from high school in 2010 and was ordained in 2018.
He still wears his Quo Vadis T-shirts to remind him of his commitment to the priesthood and to spark conversation with youth.
“It’s the only shirt I wear under my cassock,” he said.