Totus Tuus Camp: Gotta Catch 'Em All!
Hey, parents: Kids need to learn about the Faith from other people besides you. Isn't that awful? It doesn't matter how well you teach, preach, and model Catholicism. You are the parents, and this is the house that you live in together, and because these things are so, you will eventually hit a wall when transmitting the Faith to your kids. You need other Catholics to teach them the things they need to know.
It's a fact, but one that stymies parents who don't have the option to send kids to Catholic school, who haven't found a consistent Catholic community to pal around with, and who don't come into regular, casual contact with priests and nuns.
Because of this situation, I leaped at the chance to send our kids to Totus Tuus day camp, even though I knew almost nothing about it. I only knew that people I trusted said it was good and not cheesy, and it was quite cheap. Off they went!
The first- through eighth-graders go during the day, from nine to three o'clock, and they're split up by age group; and the high school kids go for two hours in the evening. The groups are run, as far as I can tell, by a seminarian or two, some college women, and a few helpers, with the cooperation of the parish priest and the Knights of Columbus.
In other dioceses, the camp is an overnight camp -- or, in some iterations, an entire youth program. It originated in Wichita, KS in the late 80's, and began to spread to other states in the late 90's. Their website says:
Totus Tuus is a Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship. The goal of Totus Tuus is to help young people grow in the understanding of, and strengthen their faith in, Jesus Christ. It is only by establishing a real and personal relationship with Him that we can be led to the love of the Father in the Spirit and so be made sharers in the life of the Holy Trinity. "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" (John 4:16). Totus Tuus strives to bring our faith to life by creating a balance between knowledge of the meaning of the Sacraments and an authentic Sacramental life.
Totus Tuus seeks to foster openness to vocations in the young people we serve as well as among the teachers. This is accomplished by placing special emphasis on the importance and necessity of prayer, Eucharistic devotion, and Marian devotion, in addition to catechetical instruction and formation in the Catholic faith.
In our area, Totus Tuus camp is a week-long day camp hosted by a parish in the next state.
Here's how it's gone so far -- and recall, I'm learning about the camp through my kids, whose eyes utterly failed to light up with joy when I told them I had signed them up for Catholic summer camp, and who enjoy nothing more than telling me I've made the wrong choice yet again.
One kid, who has always given a resounding "meh" to the idea of serving at Mass, apparently had a candle and robe foisted on him at Totus Tuus camp (all the kids go to daily Mass! After they went to confession!), and he loved it. And now he wants to serve at home, too. And my other kids are impatiently looking forward to their turn to be lectors later this week.
The younger kids came home the first day wearing strings on their wrists. I asked why, somewhat nervously -- hoping that no one had pressured them into making some kind of pledge or consecration that they're not ready for. My seven-year-old cheerfully explained, "Oh, we have to wear this all week, and if we show up without it, we have to sing a silly song." How cute! I thought. Then the next day, she showed up with a second string on her wrist, this time a green one. She casually explained that these are the liturgical colors, and she could tell me what they stood for. And that, if you forget to wear them, you have to sing a silly song.
It's a fantastic mixture of goofy camp fun and solid theology, clearly designed by people who love the Faith and understand children. The leaders and the kids choose silly camp names, which really cements the little community of campers. They sing songs, both religious and serious; they learn prayers, they have talks, they walk around the church, they play outside, they learn new games.
There are cookies, and brownies, and lemonade, and free subs one day, free pizza on the last day, and a water gun fight. If this sounds trivial to you, you have forgotten what it's like to be a kid. Little treats to anticipate keep a kid going.
The high school kids had a chance to anonymously submit questions on scraps of paper, which the leader read aloud to the group and answered. This is the best possible way to do this: you let the kids ask what they really want to know without being embarrassed; and you don't waste time answering questions that no one really cares about. A+.
On the first day, they played games that did not humiliate them, and they had talks about desire and about how to pray.
On the second day, they said said that, next time, they'd have either adoration or ice cream -- both, if there was time. And . . . they said they were hoping for adoration.
You guys, I have taken them to adoration. I have talked about it, tried to model it, and raved about how great it is. Did they care? No, they did not. But here they are, choosing it over ice cream.
One final anecdote: while the high school kids were playing some kind of volleyball game, a kid stumbled into the yard, hunting for Pokemon. They invited him to join the group, and so he did. He came back the next day, too. Is that not the most New Evangelization-ish thing you've ever heard? Gotta catch 'em all!
Oh, and on the informational sheet, it said to send the kids in wearing a dark t-shirt for water gun day. This may not sound like a big deal, but I'll tell you what it means to me: they're aware that modest dress is important, and that different families have different standards for what's appropriate boy-and-girls-getting-wet kind of games; but they also apparently understand the perils of acting like bodies are terrifying and must be swathed in yards and yards of fabric at all times, especially when we're having fun with water guns. They threaded that needle with simplicity and grace, and I'm insanely grateful for it. I think it speaks volumes about their approach to young people and the Faith.
If there's a Totus Tuus camp or program in your area (or even close to your area. Our is over half an hour away, and some families are driving much longer distances every day), leap at the opportunity! Ask around, and see if anyone knows of a program in driving distance. Or maybe even look into starting one in your diocese.