Special to The Hellenic Voice, by Greg Filias
I’ve just seen the future. Really. And despite all the tragedy, suffering and evil around us, the future is brighter than ever. You see, I have just returned from time spent with 30 high school juniors and seniors who were participants in the 2nd Annual CrossRoad Program, sponsored by the Office of Vocation and Ministry on the campus of Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Massachusetts. For ten days, these extraordinary young people were faced with questions and challenges designed to help them face their own futures and future vocations through a better understanding of their own faith.
“The CrossRoad program is really the result of a Lilly Endowment Inc. grant to Hellenic College for the theological exploration of vocation,” stated Director, Ann Bezzerides as she introduced me to some of this year’s very fortunate student attendees. Hellenic College was one of 88 religiously-affiliated colleges across the country to receive a $2 million grant earmarked specifically for vocation exploration. Ann added “The Lilly Endowment Inc. is interested in keeping religious communities strong and vibrant, and also in encouraging colleges to mentor a new generation of talented, energetic, creative and committed pastors and religiously informed lay leaders. A match made in heaven, when you consider our mission here at Hellenic College.” In fact the very mission of CrossRoad is to “inspire rising high school seniors to respond to the call to travel the road of Christ, for it is in Him they will find direction, meaning, hope, love and answers.”
Thanks to a sneak preview of the fast-paced and exciting video that was presented to the outgoing group on their last day, the ten days of CrossRoad were enlightening, engaging and energizing. The program also brought out the best in Hellenic College and Holy Cross’ dedicated educators and staff, as they bonded in both faith and friendship with these diverse and previously unrelated students. This bond was emotionally evident from the moment the students landed at the airport to the closing remarks made by all counselors and staffers from the OVM office.
Students arrived on campus on Saturday, June 25. These wide-eyed juniors and seniors, several of whom had never left home before, were immediately immersed in the special beauty of the campus and the intensity of the ten days that were to follow. Tired from traveling, but refreshed by the personal challenges that lay ahead, these 30 young men and women retired early to their dormitory rooms for a first evening of spiritual reflection with their peers and their Holy Cross graduate student staff.
The following ten days were divided into three stages, beginning with “Wrestling with your Vocation,” then on to “Vocation and Christ,” and finally to “Vocation and Christ in the Face of the Other.” Stage One explored the ultimate question of “What does God want me to do?” Stage Two helped students understand their current and future relationship to Christ, and Stage Three explored the ways in which we can put our Faith to work every day, not just in service of Christ but in service of Christ through serving everyone around us. Days were spent both in the classroom with the College’s extraordinary faculty and in group situations that enabled the students to interact with and learn from each other. Sometimes these group sessions were physically demanding as in the day at Project Adventure Ropes Course, an outdoor team building facility, and sometimes fun when the group was treated to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park. The group even attended vespers each evening at neighboring parishes in the Boston area. Highlights in common with all who attended included visits to area nursing homes with one-on-one encounters between students and nursing home residents, and an especially enlightening tour of Boston lead by a longtime homeless man.
In observing the group and their activities, I came away with a sense of amazement that these young people actually came together as a diverse group transformed into a single body with a single mission. They were turned on by their faith!
Comments from students paint a much better picture than my own, considering the personal journeys each of them went through. When asked how his life would be different after leaving CrossRoad, Peter Kreta, a high school Junior from San Francisco, California said “Throughout high school, I felt myself drifting away from God. My faith was leaving me every day. I still went to Church, but I felt no connection with Christ. It got to the point where it seemed like it was me against the world and that my faith was lost. I found it (here at CrossRoad)! It was always inside of me. My new friends and counselors helped me to get the heat going to boil my faith back into action and stronger than ever. I have found the meaning for myself and I can’t wait to go home and share my ideas with the world around me! I learned to walk the walk, not just talk the talk!”
Vanessa Theoharis, a junior from Grafton, Massachusetts, added “I witnessed each of the CrossRoaders grow closer and closer to the faith as each day progressed. I know that CrossRoad will have a never-ending inspirational drive on my body, soul and spirit. I will always remember the incredible experiences and adapt them to my every day life.”
As I left the students to their tearful goodbyes while OVM staff members gave out their cell numbers and email addresses with true love, I couldn’t help thinking how fortunate we all are to have the CrossRoad program, the Office of Vocation and Ministry, and of course, Hellenic College/Holy Cross in our Orthodox lives. Thanks to the Lilly Endowment Inc. grant, every year new disciples can take the true message of Christ with them wherever they go and whatever they do.