It was 3 a.m., and although 12-year-old Froilan Munoz admitted he was a little tired, he thought he would be able to stay awake all night.
“I like doing this; it’s nice. It’s a good way to spend Easter,” Munoz said.
Munoz was one of 28 youth from St. Richard, St. Edward, Cristo Rey and St. Patrick parishes in Racine who spent the night before Easter locked in St. Richard Church. The middle and high school students were waiting for daybreak, when they would walk to a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan to attend an outdoor sunrise Mass.
“We really emphasized the ideas of waiting and the vigil and keeping watch. We are trying to emphasize how difficult that is,” said Rita Burgess, director of religious education at St. Edward Parish.
While they were watching the movie “Bella,” several teens asked Burgess if they could go to sleep.
“Yeah, because somebody will be awake,” Burgess said. “We will take turns staying awake. It’s like sharing the responsibility of keeping watch.”
Focus on God
The students participated in crafts and fun activities at the Easter Vigil lock-in, but the favorite part of the evening for most was prayer.
“I was expecting the activities; I wasn’t expecting the meditation and all that,” said Cyntia Romero, 15. “I liked it because it gives you time to think to yourself, to concentrate on God. It’s like your own private thoughts talking to God. It gives you time to think about all the stuff that God has done for you.”
The students used Lectio Divina, an ancient Benedictine practice. The students meditated on a scriptural passage of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness. They learned to use quiet, regular breathing to move beyond their own thoughts and feelings in order to simply be in God’s presence.
“We tried to explain the importance and the history of that kind of praying,” Burgess said. “It is a different way of praying. And it was kind of neat for some of them, just the idea of slowing down and taking time for themselves, to not only talk to God, but listen to God, too.”
“I liked the mediation a lot,” said Sebastien Shea, 14, an eighth-grader at McKinley Middle School. “I mean, it was very long, but I got to think about stuff.”
“I liked it. I have actually learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know before,” said Issela Pulido, 15, a freshman at Washington Park High School who was experiencing meditative prayer for the first time. “Inside the church it was calm, it was a good time to relax and think about stuff.”
The group also participated in a prayer activity that included an examination of conscience as they learned the importance of reconciling with God and others.
“We ask for forgiveness; we seem to not have as much difficulty asking for forgiveness. But we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do we forgive others?’ That can be a hard thing,” Burgess said.
On pieces of paper, the students wrote something for which they needed forgiveness or something they needed to forgive. In the morning, before going to Easter Mass, they burned the pieces of paper as a symbolic way of offering those things up to God.
“We wrote things that we are afraid of or that make us sad, and now are able to let it go, forget about it,” Issela said.
Third time charm
It was the third consecutive year that the four parishes have offered the Easter Vigil lock-in.
“The kids really seem to enjoy it, and we do, too, even though we have to stay up all night. I’m a little old for that, but that’s OK; it is worth it,” Burgess said.
“It is going really well,” Eloy Contreras, youth ministry coordinator for Cristo Rey and St. Patrick parishes, said during the lock-in. “We have learned from our past experiences. Every year gets better, I think.”
In planning the event each year, the directors of religious education from the four parishes tweak plans from previous years, taking the best of what they had previously done, Burgess said.
“You don’t have to be totally awake the whole time, but you have to move through the evening, with the prayer time, with fun time, with rest time, just like you do in life,” Burgess said.
This year, leaders limited the number of participants.
“Last year we had 50 (teens) and it was almost too big, because we didn’t have that intimacy talking about different things. This year seems to be a really good group of about 28 kids,” Burgess said.
Participating students ranged in age from sixth through 11th grade.
“It seems to fit that age group really well. They are still willing to try some things,” Burgess said. “It really, really is cool. The kids are the ones who generated the interest in this because they started asking about three months ago when are we going to do this. So they are the ones driving this. As long as they want to do it, we will do it.”
About four parents volunteered to help with this year’s event.
“They have been very helpful, getting the snacks ready, and those kinds of things,” Burgess said. “It’s really nice. You don’t have to pull teeth to get volunteers. It’s something they want to do.”
Burgess did not mind giving up her night to spend with the students.
“It is part of the nature of my job in many ways. It’s a lot of fun for us to plan all this stuff, too,” Burgess said. “It really is very nice, and I’m glad to be part of it.”
Contreras, who brought his 9-year-old daughter, Dulce, to the lock-in, looks forward to the lock-in every year.
“It has become a family tradition for us,” Contreras said.
Waiting for Mass
Not all of the students knew each other at the beginning of the evening, but by the morning, many friendships had formed.
“It’s a good way to spend Easter, getting to know new people and bringing you closer to God,” Romero said.
As they made their way through the night, waiting for Easter Mass, the youth participated in different activities, all of which kept them focused on the meaning of Easter.
“We learn more about messages of God and we get to do different things that make us think about God,” Shea said.
One of the highlights was making “resurrection buns,” by wrapping dough around marshmallows. As they bake, the rolls become hollow, representing the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. When the teens broke the rolls open for breakfast, they were empty inside.
“Somebody keeps calling them Jesus in a blanket, but we keep correcting them. You know, we have a sense of humor,” Burgess said.
“This is really fun. It helped me look at Easter in different ways,” Shea said.
All night long, the youth looked forward to attending Mass at daybreak.
“Our kids look forward to that Mass,” Contreras said. “I’m amazed at how amazed they are when they see that sunrise.”