A holy oasis away from the world

First-time counsellor recounts his transformative experience at Camp St. Martin

In this reflection, Counsellor Caleb Binder of Grande Prairie writes of his experience at Camp St. Martin. He joined the camp for the first time this year, taking part in its full three week schedule.

In our busy lives among the trappings of secular society, with the constant “ding-ding” of our smartphones and the demands of our daily lives pulling us in countless directions, finding the peace of Jesus Christ can feel like an impossible quest shrouded by the distractions of our worldly concerns.

Amid the constant noise it can be all too easy to forget our purpose as children of God, and easier still to be drawn away from the true love for our neighbour we are called to exhibit as Christ’s disciples. I was blessed this summer to have the opportunity to step away from the hustle and bustle, from the worries of daily life, and instead be immersed in a beautiful, serene Christian community. This place was Camp St. Martin: a quiet sanctuary amid the rustling aspen leaves and the lapping waves on the lakeshore; where the calls of songbirds were punctuated in equal part by the laughing of children and the deep resonances of ancient chant; where prayer did not cease, and meals were enjoyed together; where acquaintances became true friends, and the flame of the Holy Spirit burned bright within us.

Young adults and youth from across the archdiocese took part in this year’s camp – as counsellors and campers.

I invite you to embark on a journey with me, one that unveils the peace, holiness, and profound sense of community that abound within Camp St. Martin. It is my hope that along this journey you will come to appreciate the immense value of such an experience for both campers and staff alike, and to be inspired to help the archdiocese deliver an ever more transformative experience well into the future.

Nestled in the trees along the eastern shore of Cardinal Lake, twenty minutes west of Peace River lies Camp Artaban, the property on which Camp St. Martin is held. I arrived on the first Monday in August with three weeks of clothes, a Bible and a rosary. The facility I encountered first was the hall; a gymnasium-sized building equipped with a kitchen, cafeteria and a stage at one end. It is in this building where all meals were to be eaten, although it also became an invaluable activity space owing to the inclement weather we experienced during camp’s opening week.

Continuing on from the hall, the aspen trees opened into a field circumscribed by a series of small cabins and a chapel. Along one side of the field was a large fire pit surrounded by picnic tables, and on the opposite side was a short trail leading down to the lakefront. When I looked inside the chapel I was disappointed to see the dilapidated state it had fallen into.

This year, Camp St. Martin ran from Aug. 8th to 27th. Many games and faith activities were a part of the three weeks of camp.

It became apparent to me that this property was not normally a Catholic camp. A bare cross hung above the wooden altar, and the interior was spartan aside from the ample guano (bat feces) which had accumulated on the pews. My disappointment did not last long, however, as by that evening Father Eucharius, our resident priest and camp director, and his seminarian assistants made cleaning and decorating it their top priority. A proper crucifix and tabernacle were installed, a gleaming icon of St. Martin of Tours was placed at the foot of the altar, and the walls were adorned with red and white string lights, bringing to mind the blood and water which flowed from our Saviour’s heart.

It became a fitting focal point for our new community, and a truly sacred space in which the light of God would find its home in the hearts of our young campers who were to begin arriving the following day.

Meeting the campers at the beginning of each session was a truly heartwarming experience. People from all over Northern Alberta, and from all manner of backgrounds and faith experiences trepidatiously stepped from their vehicles into this alternate reality.

Some returning campers found an instant, nostalgic comfort due to the fond memories they had formed in previous years, whereas the first-timers were cautiously orienting themselves to this new world. But by the time we sat down for dinner on the first day, you would have thought they had each known each other their whole lives. The atmosphere was joyous and wonderfully conducive to making new friends. The normal social difficulties associated with school seemed to melt away and be replaced by a neighborly love brought on by the tangible feeling of God’s omnipresence.

The camp was divided into three sessions taking place over three consecutive weeks. The first session was for those aged fourteen to seventeen. The second was for middle schoolers ranging from ages ten to fourteen, and the final week was for the youngest campers aged eight to ten. The structure of each week was focused on building the campers into disciples through a focused daily program. The week began with a series of icebreaker activities, then transitioned into both studying and living God’s Word, and culminated in learning to ask God for the graces needed to carry the Good News with us as we headed back into the world after camp. Throughout the week, all baptized campers were given access to the sacraments of Confession and Holy Eucharist, with a noticeable uptick in enthusiasm and participation by the end of each session. It was especially encouraging to witness the moments in which individual campers would understand Christ in a new, more complete way. I was blessed to be able to provide counsel to many campers who underwent transformational experiences and heard a number of stories from my colleagues who had done the same for others.

This is only an excerpt. Read the full story in the September 2023 edition of Northern Light