The Upper Room is the theme for this year’s Catholic Youth Retreat that takes place Wednesday, May 20. It is being conducted by Arise Milwaukee, a non-profit ministry serving the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and devoted to helping Catholics encounter Jesus in a powerful way.

The end of the year Wisconsin Catholic Youth Rally (WCYR) retreat, featuring the ministry team of Fr. Aaron Laskiewicz, Josh Blakesley, Lauren Ciha, Brian Magliocco and Hanna Braun was scheduled for March, but changed to the virtual version in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Consisting of four 40-60-minute video segments that will include prayer, worship music, talks, reflection and journaling, Magliocco said they originally planned on live-streaming the entire retreat, but realized that some families may not have the bandwidth to home stream that long.

“We broke this down into the four segments and we encourage youth ministers and campus ministers on May 20, or any time after that, to gather with students over a Zoom meeting or in-person meetings to talk about the sessions,” he said. “This retreat is also designed for a single student to watch from home, either alone or with his or her families.”

The Upper Room theme surrounds Pentecost and Acts 1:8: “But you will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to earth’s remotest end.”

“We are all like the Apostles in the Upper Room in our lives,” said Magliocco. “We are not sure what is happening and maybe some parents have lost their jobs, taken pay cuts; there is no school or sports. We are in limbo and in between Jesus ascending to heaven and going out to preach. We are in the Upper Room, scared, afraid of the unknown — this is all of us. But Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” We are going to come out of the Upper Room and come out of the shutdown and start to get back to some sort of normalcy — how does that look? Will we have grown in faith? How can we reach out to others?”

Filming for the retreat was scheduled to take place May 12 and includes Josh Blakesley leading the team in worship and giving a talk. Magliocco will serve as the emcee and Fr. Laskiewicz will celebrate Mass and offer Eucharistic Adoration.

“Our two God Squad alums, Lauren and Hannah, will give their testimonies and witness to others,” said Magliocco. “We are filming it in one segment and editing it to four parts, so it feels realistic.”

Response for the virtual retreat has been favorable with more than 50 groups already registering for the free event. While there is no charge, Magliocco encourages registration so resources can be emailed to leaders and attendees ahead of time.

“We hope that middle school classrooms will use the videos while meeting with their virtual classrooms. Some teachers may decide to have their students watch a video before meeting and then share and discuss the content while meeting with their class. Other teachers may decide to attend virtually together as a class,” said Magliocco. “No matter how these videos are used, it will be a great retreat experience at the end of a unique school year. While the videos will first be available on May 20, they can be accessed at any point after for classes and groups to use as a retreat at their own pace.

The retreat will conclude with Lectio Divina at the end of the day and youth leaders, teachers or principals can lead students in that form of prayer. Continuing with the Pentecost theme, students are invited to pray a nine-day novena to the Holy Spirit that begins May 23.

Magliocco said he hopes all Catholic youth from grades 6-12 will attend with their families, especially during these uncertain times.

“We want people to know the Lord is with us during this difficult time and hope they can find comfort and consolation in that and in that we are not alone in the Body of Christ. When they join us in the retreat, they will be joining others who are watching and engaging in sessions,” he said. “We had 1,800 that wanted to attend our retreat in March this year and we hope we can reach even more through this platform. We hope we can help people have an encounter through Jesus and the Catholic Church and we want them to fall in love with Christ in the Catholic Faith.”

For more information and to register, visit https://www.wicatholicyr.org. Videos will be available May 20 on the Arise website, as well as the Arise YouTube Channel.