Allison Post felt like a hypocrite. Attending diocesan Search retreat #108 in the fall of 2004 during her junior year, she wasn’t questioning her faith, but she wasn’t truly living it.
“I went to church and I believed, but then my friend choices weren’t the best, my weekend choices weren’t the best and once I went to Search I changed friend groups. That gave me the confidence to do that,” Post said and now at age 31, along with her husband Jacob, 33, she leads the youth retreat’s adoration team, praying for all participants during the three-day retreat at St. John Center in Little Rock.
“I think this retreat specifically comes at the perfect time in teenager’s lives. They begin to question their faith because most of them are cradle Catholics and they’ve always been taught this is what you believe and how you do it and juniors and seniors in high school begin to question why. And this Search retreat answers why,” she said.
For 50 years, Search has transformed the lives of Arkansas teenagers, helping them develop a relationship with Christ that will last a lifetime.
“They’re living in an age of social media platforms that they have to look perfect, be perfect and they come to a weekend where their warts and their scars are beautiful to the people around them,” said Liz Tingquist, diocesan director of youth and campus ministry for 15 years.
Dec. 6-8 is Search #147 with 71 registrants. Search #148 will be June 26-28, the next opportunity to join the roughly 6,000 others that came before them.
Search is a three-day diocesan youth retreat that’s youth led and held at St. John Center in Little Rock with an average of 50 teens. High school juniors and seniors — who can be Catholic, other Christian denominations or have no faith at all — have two times a year they can attend. Each Search is numbered. Youth who have attended Search can apply to be leaders for other Search retreats, which include the “inside team” who provides the witness talks, with two main leaders referred to as a “mom” and “dad” and 10 small group leaders. Other teams include the “outside team,” which performs skits to go along with witness talks, also includes youth “mom” and “dad” leaders and prays over the inside team, and the adoration team, a group of adults and parents who spend the weekend in perpetual adoration for participants.
Adults serve on the adoration team and in other leadership roles. Tingquist said the weekend builds on foundational talks and discussions including being sons and daughters of Christ and how they fit into that truth, Christian relationships and the power of healing in reconciliation.
“We are dealing with a group of young people who now are on average the age of 13 deciding if they’re going to stay Catholic,” Tingquist said.
Trish Gentry, program coordinator for diocesan youth and campus ministry for 21 years, attended Search in 1978.
“I can’t tell you how many kids we’ve had that have had a parent call, ‘I’m at my wits end; they’ve all of a sudden decided they’re not Catholic.’ We will squeeze them in at the last minute. (But) at the closing ceremony of Search … you’re like, ‘that is not the same kid.’”
Witness talks help teenagers know they are not alone in their often deep struggles.
“A lot of these kids have had things they’re not very proud of going on in their life, and we may have a young person witness about that,” Tingquist said. “We may have a young man or young woman stand up and say, ‘I fight an addiction to pornography and masturbation.’ And they’re talking about that stuff. Or we may have somebody who said, ‘I had sex with my boyfriend or girlfriend, but I’ve been healed and we have second virginity in the Church and this is what second virginity is.’ It’s not superficial,” Tingquist said.
Charlie Proctor, 67, a parishioner at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Slovak, helped lead Search #1 in fall 1969.
“At the time, there was a one-day Search retreat that some kids from Baton Rouge put on in Little Rock and it didn’t take hold,” he said.
The program, then known as The Search for Christian Maturity, was adopted by the National Catholic Youth Organization as its official retreat program in May 1966.
Proctor and other Arkansas teens asked Father Joseph L. Pallo, the diocesan youth director, about running their own Search, which grew out of the Cursillo movement for adults.
“I think we realized at the time the Holy Spirit was calling us,” Proctor said. “Back in that time, we didn’t use the word evangelize but that was what we were called to do with peer-to-peer ministry.”
Father Pallo, who now lives in Southern California, pointed out that the “genius of the Search program is its youth-to-youth approach.”
“We came out of Baltimore Catechism days, Vatican II was only beginning. It was the first time we really stopped and realized we’re about to be gone from home and what the world considers adults and it’s the first time we looked at our religion seriously as an adult,” Proctor said.
While Search is an opportunity for each person to grow in their individual relationship with God, the community has changed lives.
Christy Reeves Peletz, 40, grew up in North Little Rock and attended Search #88.
“I think it was just an overall experience of realizing that my faith was a big part of my life and it just grew that weekend, and I knew I wanted to do more with it instead of just keeping it to myself,” she said.
Now a youth minister in Iowa, she’s working on starting a Search retreat for the Des Moines diocese.
“You’re part of this bigger family,” Peletz said, still keeping in touch with many she’s met, including Braylin Allison. She helped mentor Allison, then a member of the diocesan Youth Advisory Council.
The Allisons are godparents to Peletz’ daughter Emma.
Allison, 23, first met her husband Jake, 23, while attending Search #129 in 2012, when he gave a talk on the male perspective of Christian relationships. They received a Christian foundation for their relationship right from the start.
“The idea of having healthy boundaries in your relationship, physically, emotionally, mentally kept us healthy for so long. I grew up in the River Valley; I would never have met my husband. God did that,” she said.
The couple married on June 16, 2018, and delayed their Jamaican honeymoon to help with Search the following weekend.
“We just couldn’t think of any better way to spend right after we got married,” both serving on the adoration team that weekend, she said.
Today, she serves on the adult inside team and Jake serves on the adoration team, which is led by his former babysitter Allison Post and husband Jacob. Almost 20 adults devote their weekend to prayer during Search at St. John Center, along with helping serve and clean up after meals.
“It kind of re-centers me for sure every time we participate in it,” Jacob Post said. “The effect it’s having on their lives and their outlook on Search as a whole from participating on adoration team, it just really changes” lives.
About 11 priests and 11 current seminarians have attended Search. Msgr. Scott Friend, diocesan vocations director, said through Search, participants experience a spiritual awakening and a connection to the universal Church and sacraments. For youth discerning a call to religious life, those elements are essential. Msgr. Friend, who attended Search #34, said he’d challenge all youth ministers to send teens to Search.
“What I think is of greatest value is it helps give them an interior experience of the Lord. So it’s not, ‘Well, this is what my parents taught me,’ it’s actually for a lot of these kids it’s the first time they have an experience with the Lord alive and real,” he said.
Seminarian Jonathan Semmler, 22, of Hot Springs Village, said he was inspired by the leaders’ vulnerability during Search #134.
“Kids in areas with not a ton of Catholic kids don’t get a sense of how far-reaching the Church truly is. You don’t get a sense of the Universal Church if you stay in your parish … Just for me to finally be aware there were other Catholics my age who were serious about their faith was incredibly encouraging to me,” Semmler said.
Father Joseph de Orbegozo, associate pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and St. Mary Church in North Little Rock and an instructor at the House of Formation, attended Search #115.
The 28-year-old has gone back a handful of times, now as a priest to hear confessions of teenagers just like he was, a chance to “see God opening people up to his love.”
“I know the potential converting power that Search has. It’s not Search, it’s not any of the people there; it’s the opportunity that Search gives for Christ to work in people’s lives and open us up and tear down walls and to break through misconceptions and ways of looking at him that are not true, that are not real, that are not who he really is. That’s modeled there by the people at the retreat because they’ve experienced that too,” he said.
Collin Gallimore, 18, a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Hot Springs who is a freshman at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, attended Search #142 in 2017.
“Adoration for sure. That wrecked me,” he said. “When I was there I didn’t really understand what was going on, and I had a lot of emotions. My life had a specific purpose. I felt like God was revealing it to me.”
Before he knew it, he had spent three hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
“Everyone needs a personal relationship with God and that’s what Search is all about. It’s one thing to do CCD on Sunday and do Bible studies, and those are all good, but … I wasn’t taught what it was like to have a relationship with God until I went to Search. I think it ties everything you learn” in religious education, he said.
For Search #147, the weekend of Dec. 6-8 Senior Lucero Chena, 17, of St. James Church in Searcy, is giving a witness on “Talking with Jesus,” in new ways. Even after the “Jesus high wore off,” from her Search, she prays more and stresses less.
“I would say it’s worth it because it helped me realize I wasn’t alone in dealing with similar issues that people are dealing with. It helped me keep a positive outlook on life ... it reminded me of the best version of myself,” Chena said.
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