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Column: Eight Awakenings later, I find community through love

By Stephanie Roca
On March 20, 2014

  • Stephanie Roca, vocal performance senior. The Maroon
  • Two students hug after listening to a talk at the Awakening retreat. The Awakening retreat takes place once a semester and emphasizes agape or selfless love. KYLEE MCINTYRE//The Maroon

On Friday, March 14, two buses pulled into Camp Whispering Pines full of retreaters for the spring 2014 Awakening Retreat, containing about fifty student new retreaters from Loyola and some from the University of New Orleans and Tulane University.
Waiting for them was another 50 student staff members. Like deer in headlights, the new retreaters tentatively approached the Awakening staff, polite yet intimidated by the strangers.
Two nights later, both new retreaters and staff grouped together for a picture. Only they were no longer two groups. They were one - a community.
After eight Awakenings, this sight never gets old. As I stood among the group - between a staffer who had been to five Awakenings and a new retreater - I marveled at how in just a few hours we had moved from being strangers to friends.
How do I describe Awakening? It's a bit difficult for me for two reasons.
First, Awakening has a lot of surprises, so I don't want to spoil anything.
Second, and more importantly, Awakening is more than just another retreat.
Though Awakening has Jesuit and Catholic roots, the message of Awakening doesn't necessarily involve religion. The mission of Awakening is to provide the new retreaters with a community where they can feel accepted, respected and loved no matter where they come from, who they are or what they believe or don't believe.
The retreat is not only about spirituality but also about creating a family.
When I came to Loyola as a freshman, I was very hesitant about Awakening. Having gone to Catholic school my entire life, I had attended so-called school retreats before. Having been one of the more socially awkward kids, going to school retreats with more socially awkward kids made the retreats boring and uncomfortable.
Awakening is different. Building community is the heart of everything done at Awakening, whether it's a cook staffer spending hours in the kitchen, a music staffer making up games to keep the laughter going or a small group leader providing encouragement to a shy new retreater. When I was a new retreater, I was overwhelmed by all the ways in which the staff displayed their love and dedication to us.
This is the main reason I have gone eight times now. Not only did I have an incredible time and want more, but also I wanted to provide future retreaters with the same experience I had.
There has not been one Awakening where I have not made a new friend, gotten closer to someone I already loved or learned something new from a stranger.
To further emphasize what Awakening means to me, I have to provide a little backstory.
I mentioned that I was "socially awkward" as a kid. I also had a problem of drawing premature conclusions.
Because I saw myself as "awkward," I decided at the ripe age of 11 that I was a nerd and therefore fated to forever be an outsider to my peers.
This caused me to not only have a negative image of myself but to become very bitter of people who I saw as happy in themselves. Deep down, I was jealous of them.
My first Awakening did not cure this negative image of myself, and it's something I continue to wrestle with - although it's gotten much better.
What Awakening did show me was it didn't matter how I saw others or myself. What mattered was that I was loved.
I can't say whether Awakening is right for you because that's something only you can decide. However, this retreat is a very unique chance to experience love from "all directions" as one of my staffer friends puts it.
That is what Awakening means to me - community through love.
Stephanie Roca is a vocal performance senior and may be reached at 

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