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On the weekend of Fri 27th – Sun 29th Sept, students from five Catholic Secondary schools in the diocese came together for the first ever joint year 11 retreat organised by the chaplains of St Augustine’s, St Bernadette’s/Bede’s and St Gregory’s.  As students prepare for the toughest year of their education so far, it was the perfect opportunity to show our young people they are not alone, they have the tools within themselves to succeed and a faith to lean on.   

Unfortunately, the weather was very unkind to us affecting our plans for facing a 700m long zipwire, our BBQ, campfire and for exploring the local Gloucestershire countryside.  However, if we were to preach a message of resilience to our young people we needed to encompass the attitude in us as staff.  After exploring every possible avenue we eventually came up trumps with Clearwell Caves who offered us the chance to go caving, over 100ft below the surface of the Forest of Dean in the old Iron Ore mines.  Suitably dressed in our jumpsuits, wellies and helmet mounted with torch, over two thirds of the groups ventured deep below the surface through narrow tunnels, deep and dark crevices and into chambers untouched since the days of mining.  The remainder of the group were blessed to be able to explore the excellent show caves and museum with some quite emotive interactive displays that encapsulated the resilience of ‘billy boys and girls’ when mining was a way of life for families. 

The centre we used for our retreat was a beautiful place called Woodcroft Christian Centre, nestled in a tiny village just outside of Chepstow with everything led and delivered by staff of our five schools.  It provided perfect facilities for us to lead our students in a host of sessions and workshops on resilience and identity both indoors and outdoors.  Whilst the rain restricted us from having night prayer outside around the campfire, we were still able to hold our own torchlight procession on the first night to a small grotto area in the grounds.  We’re incredibly grateful to Fr Barnabas who serves the Catholic parishes in the forest of Dean, for coming along and celebrating Mass with us on the Saturday evening.  He spoke to us about “not seeing God as a policeman out to get us, but as a forgiving Father out to share his love.  He is always and continuously offering us forgiveness and not trying to catch us out.”

Whilst the weather did it’s best to dampen our spirits, it failed and we were all incredibly proud to see our young people coming together and flourishing.  A huge thanks to all the schools who trusted us to try this new experience – St Augustine’s, St Bede’s, St Bernadette’s, St Gregory’s and St Joseph’s. 

To see more from the retreat weekend have a look on twitter:  @staccchaplaincy or @StG_Chaplaincy.