OLD TOWN, Maine — Winter Carnival was not what Lauren LeBreton, 16, of Bradley expected. A communicant at St. Ann Catholic Church in Bradley, she thought the gathering that drew nearly 500 teenage Catholics and adults from around the state over the weekend would be quieter.
“I expected that we’d sit there and pray all the time,” she said Sunday after the meeting concluded with a Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in Old Town. “It wasn’t like that at all, and I made a lot of new friends.”
Her older brother Dan LeBreton, 17, of Bradley agreed.
“Being able to get out and meet people from different parishes around the state,” he said, “you find out that you’re not just one small group of people who believes what you do. It’s great to be with a lot of kids around your same age who believe what you do.”
Winter Carnival is an annual event planned by Maine Catholic youth in grades six to 12. It has been held in Bangor in early January with events centered at Husson College for the past three years, according to Lynn Ryan, 52, of Hampden. Ryan directs the youth ministry at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor and also works for the Youth Ministry Office of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
On Saturday, she and other adults oversaw the preparation of a meal in the kitchen in the Parish Hall at Ryan’s church. The meal then was frozen and will be served to the needy later this month at a Bangor church. Teenagers from St. Christopher Catholic Church in York and St. Mary Catholic Church in Presque Isle gave up their free time during Winter Carnival to cook.
“I wanted to do something that made me feel better,” Jordan Francke, 17, of Presque Isle said as he melted butter in a microwave for cookies. “Doing this, I feel like I’m doing something productive. Being with other Catholic youth reinforces my faith in God because I’m with people who share the same interests. And it’s also a good way to network.”
Francke said he hoped younger teens at the event would carry home with them this year’s Winter Carnival theme, “Take Root in Christ — Be What You Believe,” and put it into action in some way.
“It also can be taken in a secular way,” he said of the slogan Saturday as he plopped dough on a cookie sheet, “to mean stand up for what you believe in.”
Francke, who heads off to college this fall, said he plans to be a physician and to participate in Doctors Without Borders, a volunteer program that sends health care professionals to the world’s poorest regions. That, he said, is a way he hopes to put his faith into action.
Brian Chambers, 15, of Dover-Foxcroft and Amelia Stevens, 16, of Fort Kent found solace and comfort in being with other Catholics their age as the new year began. For both their parishes, 2008 was a traumatic year.
Chambers, who attends St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Dover-Foxcroft, said he appreciated the support he received from youth and adults at Winter Carnival. In June, the Rev. James Robichaud, the only full-time priest in Piscataquis County, took his own life.
“It helps to come to events like this and get support from people who share your faith,” he said. “It helps to have support from people who when you talk about it, they understand how important a relationship between a parish and a priest can be. They understand the loss.”
St. Louis Catholic Church, where Stevens worships, had more than $3 million in damage in late April when the St. John River overflowed its banks and flooded the church. Members returned on Christmas Eve after renovations were completed.
“Being back in my church was such a renewal of my faith,” Stevens said after Sunday’s Mass. “Coming here [to Winter Carnival] boosted my faith even more.”