By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

There’s a saying at the Archdiocese of Edmonton’s Our Lady of Victory Camp: If you come once, you’ll probably want to come back again, and if you come twice, you’ll probably never want to stop.

For most participants at the lakefront camp, roughly 40 kilometres northwest of Red Deer, the saying rings true.

“As I got older I kept wanting to come back,” said Kendra deJong, who attended Our Lady of Victory for years and now volunteers as the camp nurse.

“This is a fruitful camp,” she said. “The friendships here are everlasting friendships and it is a good place to come to have fun and to know more about the faith.”

The Archdiocese of Edmonton operates Our Lady of Victory Camp (OLVC) and Camp Encounter at Lac La Nonne, about 100 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. The weeklong summer camps run from July to the end of August.

The camps, for youth ages 8 to 14, combine outdoor adventure, games and crafts.

They are an important opportunity for youth evangelization, said Lisa MacQuarrie, coordinator of the Archdiocese’s Office of Youth Evangelization and the director of Our Lady of Victory Camp.

“It’s novel. It’s outside their comfort zone. It’s something that is five days of really strong community, new opportunities, and focus without distraction on their relationship with Christ.”

Daniel Cote, was one of 60 campers who attended OLVC for 10-year-olds week during the week of July 16.

Cote said he loves the forest games on the nearly 80 acres of land stretching to the shores of Gull Lake, playing on the basketball court, hanging out with the counsellors, and especially the food.

But there’s one thing that sets OLVC apart from others, Daniel said.

“I like this camp because it lets you grow closer to God. Everything (we do) we usually base it after God.”

The campers and staff celebrate daily Mass in the chapel at the centre of the camp grounds, and they sing the Angelus prayer before every meal.

“Everyone here, especially (the staff), has a very good faith life and they share that with you and they give testimonies,” said Daniel’s older brother Joshua Cote, 15, who returned to OLVC as a counsellor this after many years as a camper.

“It’s super fun. I think it’s a good mixture of outdoor activities to keep everyone engaged and talks inside, so you still grow a lot in your faith life. But it’s not too much that the little kids lose interest and don’t want to come back next year.”

Camp counsellor Noah Kungel said he feels the presence of God when he is at OLVC.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name I will be there,” said Kungel, quoting Scripture.

“That’s definitely true here. Everybody’s coming in and we’re all praising Him. It just makes for a really awesome community.”

Daniel Cote said he’s learned that God is sometimes closer than you think.

“I see Him in the team and a lot in the priests who come here. The priests are amazing.”

Rev. Marc Cramer, vocations director for the Archdiocese, has been serving at the camp for a number of years and also organizes for other priests to visit the camp to celebrate Mass and Confession.

The campers are sometimes invited to ask questions during homilies. It’s an opportunity they use to ask questions ranging from whether their pets will go to heaven to dating.

“The desire amongst myself and many priests is that we want to make sure our young people grow up and come to know Jesus and it’s just worthy of our time and investment,” said Cramer.

“Many young people when they’ve gone to camp it’s been an important part of their faith development.”

MacQuarrie said the caring community at camp is an escape from daily distractions, like cellphones and computers, and can help lead campers to profound spiritual experiences.

“When I see young participants in Mass or at campfire and they’re just singing at the top of their lungs praising God and being excited to do activities like that, it’s amazing,” MacQuarrie said.

“It’s not that they have to go to daily Mass. They look forward to going to daily Mass and being the reader, being the altar server, and getting to speak those intentions, or during the homily asking questions of the priest.”

OLVC was started in 1946 on eight acres of waterfront land donated by Andrew and Anne Guillemaud to the Archdiocese in 1950, as a place for summer recreation for children. As time went on, Gull Lake receded and the camp grounds grew to almost 80 acres.

Camp Encounter can accommodate 60-64 campers per week and OLVC can accommodate up to 130. They are funded partially by camper fees, with a large portion of the costs supported through donations from parishes and individuals. The Archdiocese itself also contributes to the financial needs of the camps.

For info about each camp, see http://www.olvc.ab.ca and http://www.campencounter.com.