I was on an extended road trip this summer in the US and happened to be headed towards St. Gertrude the Great at the time of the Young Adult Gathering, known popularly as the YAG. I had some recordings to do with Bp. Dolan for next season of Restoration Radio in the days following that event, and even though I thought that my attendance at the YAG would automatically downgrade it to simply an "AG," I thought it would be worthwhile to see some of all the good times I had heard about via two of my colleagues here at TR. I was not let down.
From the outset, I marveled at what an act of bravery it was to come to the YAG. You're coming to some place where you may not know anyone, admitting at least tacitly that you are single and open to meeting someone. At any age that might be a brave thing to do, but I had to be impressed by those much younger than myself not just coming, but refusing to be wallflowers. On more than one occasion in the first moments of the YAG (the Thursday late afternoon when most people arrive) I saw young men and women going up to complete strangers and introducing themselves, and getting into whatever conversation they might before we all got the notice that confession was open and Helfta Hall cleared out -- perhaps less because everyone was running to get in line for confession, and more so because this was a signal that we were getting close to the Friday night Mass, sermon, and devotions that would in a sense officially open the YAG.
That first night featured a dinner and bonfire, and while people formed into different clutches of conversation or music playing (we had plenty of music all weekend!) there were no cliques, even among those who came with childhood friends or sweethearts. I found courtesy and openness everywhere around me, and observed it extended to others. All were welcome, no one was made to feel as if he/she couldn't approach a group, or say hello, or stand by and quietly listen to some guitar or banjo. While the wise among us applied insect repellent before toasting their smores, perhaps the wiser retired early, knowing a long day was ahead...
Saturday saw us start with Mass and brunch and a talk from Bishop Dolan, an excerpt of which I livestreamed here. We then entered into a pretty open period of the day. Those active and sun-starved went outside (some with sunblock, others in faith) for volleyball, corn hole, frisbee, etc. Others happily unpacked board and card games and eagerly began sessions, which included Fr. McKenna playing Jenga (to victory) and me introducing some people to Settlers of Catan. Later in the day we took a group picture of the largest YAG in the modern trad era (we know there were forerunners of these events a generation ago that produced attendees for this one) before going to a local shopping center where we took part in a Rosary procession, led by a statue of Our Lady. Dinner followed, as did plenty of square dancing. When the dancers managed to pause, copious amounts of water and ice cream were consumed. Knowing that Mass beckoned in the morning many of us helped to clean up and head home before turning into pumpkins.
We started Sunday with Mass and a brunch followed by a talk on finance by one of the SGG parishioners. We finished with some time at the bowling alley...or so one might have thought. There was an after-YAG! While some had to leave after Mass or even during bowling, no small number trundled off to Annie Young's house later in the afternoon for another bonfire, more music, conversation, and a rosary. It would once again be late in the evening before that group started to break up.
While I couldn't speak for the convictions and beliefs of all the attendees, I heard both serious and light topics discussed with courtesy and amiability, and there was no pressure (as some may have feared) to "couple up." What I consistently witnessed was companionship and amity. People getting to know each other. Indeed, when one of my new acquaintances from the YAG went "facebook official" very recently I found myself surprised, thinking, "When did that happen?" It most likely happened because the YAG provided a pressure-free environment based in friendship. All else can grow from there; nothing can grow without that base. I came away from the YAG encouraged by the youth, not necessarily because they were all are on fire for the Faith (though some certainly are!), but because there is great potential for that fire in what I saw and observed, which would certainly be an improvement over the current generation, which grew complacent after moving out of Mass in garages into permanent structures. And I understand, to an extent. Human nature necessarily relaxes when it thinks a goal has been achieved. But having Mass in a permanent place at a regular time is hardly a goal to achieve. It is a bare minimum on which everything else must be built, and since the last generation have proven themselves too complacent to build beyond that minimum, it is to these youth we must look, and hopefully, see good fruits in.
I have had experiences organizing events of all sizes and special credit must go both to Colleen Eldracher, who oversaw the execution of the event (and wrote up a summary with photos afterwards), as well as to the clergy, who made themselves very available all throughout the weekend, not only casually at meals, but in private chats, for sacraments, and yes, occasionally for Jenga. I came away fortified spiritually, with new acquaintances, and a better understanding of the trad landscape at the youth level: the outlook is positive.