Tonianne Zottoli served as a volunteer at Camp Veritas this summer, one year after her life-changing experience as a camper.
“Camp Veritas changed my life forever,” said the 18-year-old graduate of Albertus Magnus High School in Bardonia, who served as a middle-school girls group leader for Camp Veritas at Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, July 16-22.
“In Thursday night adoration a year ago, I discerned I would be going to Franciscan University. God spoke to my heart. He just kept saying, ‘Come follow me, come follow me.’ In the (Eucharistic) procession, I never experienced anything like it. My life did a complete 180-degree turn.
“I really wanted to come back and bring that to my girls. It’s been the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my life.’’
Camp Veritas, now 10 years old, is a nonprofit organization offering one-week, overnight camps for incoming seventh through 12th graders. The camp uses activities to build relationships, and prayer to expand those relationships and develop and maintain a deep relationship with God and Jesus Christ.
“All of the teens encounter God in such a powerful way and we have such an opportunity to lead, form and inspire teens of the future,’’ said Bryan Mercier, a volunteer for five years and camp director for Camp Veritas at Camp Lakota in Wurstboro, which takes place in August.
“If we don’t reach today’s teens, there is not going to be a Church tomorrow. I really enjoy working with them to be the Church of tomorrow.”
Mount St. Mary, the second of four Camp Veritas camps in 2017, hosted Camp Veritas for a fifth year. A total of 500 teens, 100 volunteers and 40 priests, deacons and religious participated in the camp at Mount St. Mary.
A day at camp starts with morning prayer and activities like dodgeball, basketball, swimming, kickball, laser tag, soccer and volleyball. Following lunch, the campers continue their activities before preparing for Mass, dinner, confessions and evening prayer.
“The college is a great location for camp because not only is it in a beautiful setting with a friendly and helpful staff, excellent views in a very comfortable environment, but the college is very central in the Archdiocese of New York, attracting people from all counties of the archdiocese and the entire tri-state region,’’ said Ryan Young, CEO of Camp Veritas.
Father Hartley Bancroft, once a counselor at Camp Veritas, has celebrated Mass at the camp for the past two years since his ordination.
“For some of these kids, it’s the first time they ever really had an experience with God and they absolutely need that in the world today,’’ said Father Bancroft, a parochial vicar of St. Martin de Porres parish in Poughkeepsie.
Dan Hanrahan, 15, was a camper for the third year. A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Newburgh and a student at Newburgh Free Academy, he told CNY that he is considering becoming a priest.
“I feel from camp I started opening my eyes to possibly becoming a priest and I feel like I’ve gotten closer to Christ,” said Hanrahan, who enjoyed swimming, laser tag and adoration at camp.
“I’m having the greatest time with my group and the priests. We are like a family. We care for each other, share the same morals and we all love Christ. You have great spiritual direction here with so many priests, nuns and counselors.”
Chris Conaway, a 16-year-old camper at Camp Veritas for a third and final year, said the camp offered stress relief and a chance for him to enhance his communication skills.
“I enjoy spending the week with the Lord and people who worship the Lord like you. You can leave the stresses of the outside word and all your worries behind,’’ said Conaway of Trumbull, Conn.
“You learn to communicate with people and be able to listen to other people’s stories. You learn how to relate and reflect on it even though I may not be going through the same things they are. We can be learning the same lessons through different experiences.”
Following the stop at Mount St. Mary, Camp Veritas was at Summit Lake Camp in Emmitsburg, Md., July 23-29, and will be at Camp Lakota, Aug. 13-19. Camp Veritas will be offering weekend retreats at John A. Coleman High School in Hurley in September; St. Rose of Lima parish in Bridgeport, Conn., in October; and John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers in December. Information: www.campveritas.org
“It’s rejuvenating every year to come back,” said Grace DiPaul, a 14-year-old student at John S. Burke Catholic High School in Goshen and parishioner of Holy Name of Jesus in Otisville.
“I tell my friends it’s amazing to see so many teens just praising Christ and all being in the presence of Christ. There is no judgment and you can be yourself. No one knows you and it’s a fresh start. It’s so rejuvenating to see.”