Local missionaries bring Totus Tuus day camps to diocese

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 week-long Totus Tuus Camp at Sacred Heart Parish in Phoenix that wrapped up June 4. (photo courtesy of Atri Zen)
Elementary-aged campers gather outside of Sacred Heart Parish in Phoenix for a week-long Totus Tuus Camp that wrapped up June 4. The campers focused on the sacraments, catechesis and building community. (photo courtesy of Atri Zen)

Secure two seminarians, add two young adult missionaries, throw in some 40 to 80 elementary-aged children, Marian devotion, catechesis, the Eucharist and fun. Then simmer.

Five-and-a-half hours later, the children emerge with smiling faces, affirmed in who they are as a child of God and with obvious roots of true friendship both in Christ and in one another. At night, substitute the younger learners for anywhere from 15 to 50 teenagers, simmer for two hours and the results are the same.

Girls join in closing prayer during "Mary's Mantle," a brief time of prayer and discussion for the girls involved with Totus Tuus at Most Holy Trinity June 17. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Girls join in closing prayer during “Mary’s Mantle,” a brief time of prayer and discussion for the girls involved with Totus Tuus at Most Holy Trinity June 17. The boys had a separate “Man Cave” gathering. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

It’s a faith-filled recipe for growth — spiritual, intellectual and personal — that both children and their parents want to try again and again, even beyond the standard five-day format. It’s not a new initiative, but Totus Tuus is finishing its five-week trial run at as many parishes in the Diocese of Phoenix July 1.

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Totus Tuus

A day camp program based in scripture and the Catechism and led by trained missionaries. Separate sessions are available for children and teens.

The Diocese of Phoenix finished a trial run this summer. To learn about bringing it to your parish next year or becoming a missionary:

  • Angela Gaetano, director of parish leadership support
    agaetano@diocesephoenix.org or (602) 354-2321
  • Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Nashville, Wichita; Archdiocese of Denver, Chicago, Toronto

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Local leaders and those in about 30 other dioceses nationwide describe the Catholic youth program as a way to bridge faith formation through the summer months. More importantly, they say its design leaving young adult leaders in charge gives the program a more youthful, energetic flare to which campers can both relate and aspire.

“Our mission first and foremost is to strive for growing in our own holiness with Christ. From that, everything else has to come forth,” Octavia White said about life as a missionary.

White, whose home parish is Most Holy Trinity, jumped on board to help bring Totus Tuus to the diocese  after learning about it through a Catholic group at Vanderbilt University. She spent last summer as a Totus Tuus missionary in Nashville and served as the lead contact in Phoenix this year.

“We’re able to show them our faith is not just for older people and life with Christ is really full of joy,” White said.

week-long Totus Tuus Camp at Sacred Heart Parish in Phoenix that wrapped up June 4. (photo courtesy of Atri Zen)
Phoenix seminarians Miguel Soto and Noah Minton teamed up with Octavia White and Morgan Morano as missionaries leading Totus Tuus camp at five Valley parishes throughout June. (photo courtesy of Atri Zen)

The academic lessons this year focused on prayer and the “Our Father” as well as the Glorious Mysteries. Next summer, following the program’s six-year cycle, would likely focus on the mystery of salvation and a different set of mysteries of the Rosary.

The lessons, introduction to Adoration and silly songs/skits are important, but the missionaries are prepared for a shorter staying power. What’s more memorable, they say, is how the kids were treated.

“What they will remember is, ‘Wow, this person was in love with the Lord and because of that, this person loves me,’” White told The Catholic Sun the night before starting the fourth week of Totus Tuus camp.

That phrase, translated from Latin, means “Totally Yours” and mirrors St. John Paul II’s apostolic motto. The second camp session in the Diocese of Phoenix was at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale, steps away from the future St. John Paul II High School. Some 60 children and 20 teens at Phoenix’s Sacred Heart Parish blazed the trail as the first set of campers.

Most Holy Trinity, providentially, was third, followed by St. Henry in Buckeye before finishing at Corpus Christi in Ahwatukee. That’s where Anthony Janus serves as coordinator of youth evangelization. He got the ball rolling to bring Totus Tuus to the area and White connected with him on outreach.

An attempt to run the camp at a parish outside of the Valley didn’t work out in the scheduling this year. Leaders would like to make that a reality next summer and ideally have two missionary teams in order to reach at least 10 parishes.

(Above: a glimpse into Totus Tuus in Chicago)

“It’s really beautiful because we don’t just talk about Christ… but we also bring them to this direct encounter with God” through Adoration, Reconciliation and the Mass, White said.

The children and the teens have responded favorably. They were still during Adoration and the group at St. Thomas Aquinas was genuinely disappointed that Mass wasn’t available one day due to the ordination rehearsal.

Pedro Ramirez, a father of three at Most Holy Trinity, enrolled all three of his children ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old. Totus Tuus is geared toward first-graders and older, but leaders were able to work with some younger children and families for the trial year. His kids eagerly told them about their camp experience each day or tried to sing a song they learned.

Ramirez said he registered his kids so they’d avoid long periods of screen time at home. At the same time, they’re learning about the Church, he said. The only down side: camp was just one week long.

Noah Minton, a seminarian for the Diocese of Phoenix, participates in a Water Day that concluded the Totus Tuus Camp at Most Holy Trinity June 17. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Noah Minton, a seminarian for the Diocese of Phoenix, participates in a Water Day that concluded the Totus Tuus Camp at Most Holy Trinity June 17. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Ten-year-old Rachel Ciarametaro enjoyed learning about girl saints and stories Jesus told His disciples. Short sessions brought the girls together for “Mary’s Mantle” and the boys together in an undisclosed “Man Cave.”

Nine-year-old Angie Lopez Rico summed up Totus Tuus as “Fun, fun fun!” She especially enjoyed the ice breaker skits.

With every simple encounter, Noah Minton hoped to show his campers how to live out God’s joy, love and mercy and inspire them to live in a similar manner. Minton was one of two seminarians serving as missionaries.

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Don’t want to wait until next summer?

Explore some free online Catholic summer camps

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Ambria Hammel, staff writer, began serving The Catholic Sun diocesan newspaper via writing and photography in 2006. For story ideas, email ahammel@catholicsun.org or call (602) 354-2134.

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