Jefferson City CHRISTpower retreat

Service, reconciliation and joy 


By Jay Nies

God’s infinite mercy cast a warm, yellow glow across the Helias Catholic High School chapel and down the hallway. 

Fourteen priests were there to hear confessions and grant absolution to 42 high-school teens taking part in the 11th annual CHRISTpower retreat in Jefferson City. 

“You’re absolutely in the right place. God always puts you in the right place,” team member Russ Anderson told the teens as the candlelight reconciliation service got under way. 

The July 13-19 retreat, a comprehensive experience built around service, prayer, discernment and fun, drew participants, chaperones and volunteers from all over the diocese.

The theme was “C.P.R.: The Heartbeat of Our Faith,” with C.P.R. standing for “Christ’s Power Revives.”

Participants consistently rank the reconciliation service among the week’s most powerful activities, lightening their load as they head into daily service projects and evening gatherings for prayer, witness and fellowship.

“I can’t even express how great it feels to be completely free of everything,” said Jonathan Petree, who was on his second CHRISTpower retreat. “It’s going to help me to grow closer to God and just have a great time.”

For second-time CHRISTpower participant Olivia Wolken, “it helps me relax, knowing that I’m at peace again, knowing that I can approach the people I’m going to serve even better now.” 

                                                                                                    Full days


Arriving Sunday evening, the teens were organized on Monday into work groups. 

Free of distractions such as cell phones and TV, they got up early each day to help others throughout the community.

Work sites included: the Salvation Army, Jefferson City Day Care, Cole County Residential Services, Capital Projects, the St. Raymond Society home, Villa Marie Skilled Nursing, and Samaritan Center. 

Each day after Mass and supper, the teens and adults reflected on how God had made Himself known to them that day. 

Evenings brought fellowship and spiritual activities, including Family Night on Wednesday and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Friday. 

                                                                                          From darkness into light

The Monday night reconciliation service began with a profession of faith, followed by an examination of conscience. 

“Reconciliation came from Jesus,” Mr. Anderson told everyone. “Jesus came to the Apostles after His death and resurrection. And He told them about forgiveness of sins — that the sins they forgave would be forgiven, the sins they retained would be retained.

“Many, many priests are here tonight,” Mr. Anderson continued. “They are apostles of Christ and are here to do what He told them to do. They can forgive your sins.

“When you go to them, you’ll be speaking from your heart, and they will be speaking from Jesus’ heart,” he stated. “When you walk out of that room, you’ll be free.”

In the chapel, while CHRISTpower team members played sacred music for praise and contemplation, teens stepped forward to be escorted by a candle-bearer down the hall to where one of the priests was seated. 

After absolution was given, the candle-bearer led the teen back to the chapel. 

One-sixth of the active priests of the Jefferson City diocese participated as confessors, each wearing a white alb and purple stole. 

They included: Father John J. Schmitz, spiritual director; Monsignor David D. Cox; and Fathers Gregory C. Meystrik, Christopher M. Aubuchon, Anthony J. Viviano, Louis M. Nelen, R. William Peckman, Jeremy A. Secrist, Jason T. Doke, Stephen W. Jones, David J. Veit, Colin P. Franklin, Anthony R. Rinaldo and Joseph S. Corel. 

                                                                                      Devil doesn’t like it

“We are here to be Christ to you, to speak His words of forgiveness,” Fr. Schmitz told everyone.

He encouraged the teens to take their time while receiving the sacrament, reflecting and asking questions if they felt the need. 

He noted that it takes great humility to go to God and admit one’s own faults. 

“But the reward is even greater,” the priest stated. “The reward is God’s gift: being filled with His grace and strength to carry on another day in new life and His love.”

Chris Korte, director of the Kirksville Newman Center, invited everyone waiting in the chapel to pray quietly for themselves and each other. 

Reconciliation is a new beginning, he said. 

Fr. Schmitz urged the teens to celebrate their new life in Christ by supporting one another in a loving and challenging way. 

“Let us challenge each other again and again to grow stronger and better in the ways of God,” he said. 

He reminded the teens that people all over the diocese would be praying for them throughout the week. 

“We really need God’s strength to serve His people this week,” he said, “because when we love God as much as we do, the devil doesn’t like it.” 


                                                                                           Filled with joy

The teens were struck by the healing power of reconciliation. 

“It cleanses you, it breaks you open,” said Sam Distler, who was taking part in his third CHRISTpower. “It’s like a hole has been filled. Where the sin was taken it’s now filled with happiness and joy.”

Third-time CHRISTpower participant Erin Gerlemann said it opened her eyes to what she needs to change in her life — and to the fact that she can change. 

“Just talking with the priest and praying, talking and listening to God, I see how I can change not only myself but others as well,” she said. 

She believes many people are searching for forgiveness but don’t know how to ask for it. 

“I think that by going to reconciliation and having it affect me the way it did, I could relay that to other people and bring them to the Church and eventually to reconciliation, to the sacrament,” she said. 

Ms. Wolken said the music helped her relax, while the affirming, welcoming environment drew her more deeply into the sacrament. 

“It’s such a great experience,” she said. 

The reconciliation service also made a strong impression on the confessing priests. 

“Humbling is probably the best way to describe it,” said Fr. Aubuchon, newly ordained, who had helped facilitate several previous CHRISTpower retreats as a seminarian. 

He said he gets “fired up” by being an instrument of God’s mercy. 

“Christ is who takes away their burdens, but He works through my hands to do it,” he stated. “It’s amazing.” 


                                                                                           Many hands

George Bockwinkel, who’s been affiliated with CHRISTpower since it started 11 years ago, noted that about 200 volunteers had a hand in CHRISTpower, including about 20 who were on-site all week. 

Tress Prenger, a teacher at St. Jospeh School in Westphalia, was the director. 

“The rest were involved in non-24/7 roles that happened behind the scenes or in the planning stages,” he said. 

Many of the volunteers were either parents of teens who have formerly attended or who are currently attending CHRISTpower, or young adults who themselves once were teen attendees of CHRISTpower.

About 100 volunteers from various parishes, Knights of Columbus councils and other organizations served 13 hot meals throughout the week.

Donations of such items as pizza, envelopes, soda and cash were cheerfully made and graciously accepted. 


                                                                                       “Amazing week”

This year’s CHRISTpower brought together 42 teens — 17 young men and 25 young women — from 13 parishes. 

Eighteen were first-time participants. Thirteen were on their second CHRISTpower, six were on their third, and five were on their fourth. 

Total CHRISTpower attendance from the past 11 years has been 449, although many of those were returnees. 

“It gets better every year,” said Mr. Distler. 

Sydney Kuster was a team mentor this year after having attended several CHRISTpower retreats in years past. 

“I made some awesome new friends, and I got closer to some older friends,” she said. “It was just an amazing week and I can’t wait to come back next year.” 


                                                                                        Breaking out

At the closing Mass on July 19, Fr. Schmitz noted that all the world is searching for something. 

“Not only do we know what it is, we have experienced it exponentially this week,” he said. “It is the love of God, the care of our Savior, their gift of the Spirit for us. 

“Now we’re going to break out of this very lovely, unique, encouraging, loving and strengthening bubble that is our CHRISTpower retreat,” he stated. “Christ wants us to bring the peace and joy we’ve found out to others.” 

He reminded the teens to stay connected to God by partaking frequently of the Mass and the sacraments, by regularly setting aside time to pray and just listen to God.

Fr. Schmitz urged everyone to “be filled with hope and joy. Know that you can be cleansed again and again in reconciliation. And know that yes, can make a difference.”




Cathedral of St. Joseph acquires former Carmelite monastery

Property will serve as rectory, adoration chapel 

Pro-life leaders pass the torch

Patrick Castle takes over at Vitae Society


By Jay Nies and Martha Schieber

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Castle has spent virtually his entire life training for his defining race and battle: leading the Vitae Foundation into its second generation. 

From the cold, pre-dawn South Dakota mornings as a newspaper boy through grueling physical training at the U.S. Air Force Academy, from pursuing a doctorate in nano-analytical chemistry to formulating overseas defense strategies in 9/11’s aftermath, from helping his future wife discover her pro-life leanings to saving a pre-born baby outside a St. Louis abortion clinic, from founding the National LIFE Runners Team to charging with 170 of his teammates in the Kansas City Marathon, Dr. Castle has embraced his training with grace and vigor. 

“I certainly can’t complain with how God has prepared me,” he told a roomful of Vitae Foundation boosters at a June 10 pro-life dinner in Sedalia.

It was his first speaking engagement since succeeding Carl Landwehr on June 1. 

“Pat, did you have any idea what God had in store for you at Vitae Foundation?” Mr. Landwehr asked him. 

“No,” Dr. Castle replied. “But God’s ideas are always better than mine.”

The Jefferson City-based Vitae Foundation combines research and numerous types of mass media to promote a culture in which abortion is unthinkable, while helping women with unplanned pregnancies choose life. 

Mr. Landwehr founded Vitae in 1992 and is continuing as a strategic advisor for Vitae. 

He said he was honored to introduce his successor. 

“Some people think transitions are terrible and hard to achieve,” Mr. Landwehr stated. “But if you focus on the mission and if you have someone like Pat Castle to move the cause forward, it’s really easy and exciting.”


                                                                                       Great news

Dr. Castle had just moved to Jefferson City from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., where he was the Medical Support Squadron Commander. 

“I already feel home right here in mid-Missouri,” he said, “because mid-Missouri is for God and country and is fully pro-life.”

He talked about the seven years he spent as a paperboy, starting when he was 11. 

“I was delivering news that wasn’t always good,” he said. “And now I’m smiling because God has me delivering mostly Good News.” 

For starters, for the first time since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, more than half of the people in the United States identify themselves as pro-life.

In the past 20 years, the number of U.S. abortion clinics has fallen from more than 2,100 to fewer than 700, while the number of pregnancy resource centers has gone from 800 to more than 2,500.

Thanks in large part to the Knights of Columbus, more and more of those centers have ultrasound machines and can show the pregnant mother an image of her pre-born baby. 

“Eighty-seven percent of abortion-minded, vulnerable women who see their unborn baby on ultrasound — guess what they choose. Life!” Dr. Castle said. 

By placing meticulously researched messages on billboards, social media, television, radio and other forms of communication, Vitae has connected tens of thousands of abortion-minded women with their local pregnancy resource centers.

More than 75,000 abortions have been prevented — more than 75,000 lives saved. 

                                                                                 Going into battle

Dr. Castle recalled his first year at the Air Force Academy, which was akin to being in basic training for 12 months. 

Thirty-four percent of his classmates left before graduation. 

“As I look back on that time with boxing and marathon running and the rigor and leaping out of airplanes, doing gliders and running my first marathon, I say, ‘Wow! Okay, God! I get it now.’”

His mettle was tested further when he was the Air Force’s chief bioenvironmental engineer in Turkey from 2000-02.

“I was the technical expert for the commanders, and we just happened to be the closest American unit to Osama Bin Laden on Sept. 11, 2001,” he recalled. 

Dr. Castle was preparing for a real battle, and that’s exactly what he’s heading into. 

It’s a battle in which more than 3,000 pre-born babies per day — about 23 percent of all Americans conceived — are lost to abortion. 

He compared the 597,000 Americans who die of heart disease each year and the 530,000 who die of cancer to the 1.2 million who die through abortion. 

“It’s the leading cause of death in America,” he said. 

In a research study, 84 percent of women who had abortions said they did so because they believed they had no choice. 

“Eighty-two percent said that if one supportive person had come to them and said, ‘You can do this, and I’m gonna’ help you,’ they would have chosen life,” Dr. Castle stated. 

“Guess what,” he said. “Each of us can be that one person.”

                                                                                       Think about it


Dr. Castle talked about meeting and falling in love with Angi, his wife, while they were in graduate school together. 

Eventually realizing that she didn’t share his pro-life convictions, he began making a clear but loving case for the unborn and their mothers. 

“I never thought of it that way,” she told him. 

“And that’s exactly what Vitae Foundation does,” he said, noting that the organization invested $2 million in social science research to find out how best to reach and help vulnerable, abortion-minded women.

                                                                                       Scientific approach


He noted that his doctorate work in nano-analytical chemistry led him to build a very sensitive sensor to detect chemical-biological warfare agents. 

Having studied molecular structures smaller than one-10,000th of the width of a human hair allowed him to make an unequivocally pro-life observation:

“You want to know when life begins? Trust me, life begins at conception. Fact!” he said. 


                                                                                          Born to run

An avid running enthusiast, Dr. Castle founded the National LIFE Runners Team ( in 2008. 

By running and walking in specially designed “REMEMBER The Unborn” jerseys, members pray and raise awareness and money for pregnancy resource centers throughout the country.

LIFE Runners has more than 2,700 members, ages 1 to 88. There are more than 59 chapters in all 50 states and 17 other countries.

“The only requirement is to get your $11 jersey and wear it anywhere — around the block, to the grocery store, to church, to school,” Dr. Castle stated. “And our message, like all the messaging that the Vitae Foundation puts out, is changing hearts and minds, which is truly saving lives.”

In 2011, 170 LIFE Runners signed up for the Kansas City Marathon — the largest team ever to compete in that event. 

Afterward, Dr. Castle; Anne Carmichael, a Vitae Vice President; and about 100 other LIFE Runners went to Overland Park, Kan., to kneel down on the sidewalk and pray in front of the abortion clinic there. 

Seeing them helped a security guard at the clinic find the courage to quit his job. 

“I’m warning you, if you ask me to pray for something, as likely as not, I’m going to say, ‘Great, let’s pray right now,’” he said. “If you ask me to pray for you, you’re going to get prayed for!”

In February 2012 while serving at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Dr. Castle joined with his LIFE Runners teammates to spend a day with Coalition for Life St. Louis’ campaign praying outside the St. Louis Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.

By thinking quickly and connecting gracefully, he convinced a mother to go across the street to the ThriVe mobile medical unit instead of aborting her baby. 

She contacted him on Facebook two years later and sent a photo of her daughter, Zoe Isabella. 

Her name means “Life Promised to God.”


                                                                                       The people you meet

The LIFE Runners Team is what brought Dr. Castle into contact with Mrs. Carmichael at Vitae.

She joined the team in 2011 and facilitated a meeting between Dr. Castle and Mr. Landwehr the following year. 

In the course of the discussion, the men asked each other, “When are you retiring, and what are you going to do after that?”

Dr. Castle’s answer was to see what God had planned for him. 

“Well guess what? I have some ideas that God might approve of!” Mr. Landwehr told him. 

Their relationship developed into something like the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi and the mentored Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars.”

“Carl has given great ‘vectoring’ to the pro-life movement through the Vitae Foundation,” Dr. Castle noted. “His approach, his research-based messaging is unmatched.”

Dr. Castle thanked Mr. Landwehr and all of his associates for doing the “heavy lifting” through the decades when abortion was more widely accepted than it is today. 

“It’s great to jump onto a winning team,” Dr. Castle stated. “Together we are winning!

“I am absolutely blessed to represent and serve you,” he told the Sedalia audience, “and we are one team and are all in Christ for pro-life.”

He saluted them, and they stood and applauded. 

  Mrs. Schieber, a member of Immaculate Conception parish in Jefferson City, is the Vitae Foundation’s communications director.





    CHRISTpower Set for July 13-19

    CHRISTpower is a 7-day service retreat for Catholic high school teens that provides them an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of their faith, apply that faith in service to others, and discern what God is calling them to do with their lives. Click for information.
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Most Rev. John R. Gaydos, Bishop of Jefferson City