A Call to Chivalry – it seems such an unlikely appeal in a world where knightly pursuits in defense of the Church are discouraged.
Indeed, parents face formidable obstacles when instilling gentlemanly manners, manly piety or lively Faith in their boys. Modern American culture beckons in another direction focusing on self-centeredness and the pleasures of life. Peer pressure is immense and can be devastating to the practice of Catholic morals.
And yet perhaps the most amazing thing about the TFP’s Call to Chivalry Summer Camps is the participants’ enthusiastic response to an event which issues such a frontal challenge to today’s popular culture.
Held at the Feliciana Retreat Center in Norwood, La. from June 27 – July 7, this year’s Southern camp was co-sponsored by the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and St. Louis de Montfort Academy. Fathers were encouraged to attend with their sons.
In normal times, an enthusiastic response to a call to chivalry would not be exceptional. What boy would not like hardy games, exciting adventures and camaraderie? What better way to unite such pursuits to a sublime ideal!
However, these are not normal times. This year’s camp theme was centered on the story of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, today known as the Knights of Malta who for many centuries defended Christendom. The program stressed the parallels between times past and today where the Church and Christian civilization are under attack by society’s culture and how, like the knights of old, youth has an important role to play.
Catholic boys, ages 12-18, traveled from across the South to attend the program. The camp offered concrete examples of how young people can defend the Faith. Participants were particularly impressed by TFP Student Action’s activities on the nation’s campuses in defense of traditional marriage and against abortion. They were also treated to talks on Islam, the Crusades, a history of the Knights of Malta and topics based on the book, Revolution and Counter-revolution by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Theatrical presentations helped illustrate the points and the boys were encouraged to discuss and debate the lessons they learned.
“This year’s meetings were fantastic!” said one camp attendee. “There were so many things that I learned about history and defending the Faith.”
Soul and Body
However, talks alone are not enough. A strong spiritual focus is necessary. A program of manly piety started with the singing-proclamation of the Creed and ended with a nightly torch-lit rosary procession outdoors. Prayer, the rosary and Holy Communion made up the “spiritual arms” of these modern day knights.
In keeping with the theme of the Knights Hospitaller, the Summer Camp started with a “knight hospitaller” First Aid Course for all the young men.
The active yet fun-filled schedule began with morning reveille and room inspection. The boys engaged in camp activities which included rock climbing, canoeing, archery, self-defense and paintballing. The physical feats culminated with a final afternoon of grueling “medieval games” officiated by “Knights of Malta” on horseback.
As the days passed, a spirit of camaraderie grew that extended not only to the young participants but included the camp staff and fathers. Friendships developed around a common ideal.
“I learned many things here that I am going to use to teach my son to confront life’s difficulties,” said one father who attended the camp.
The Greatest Adventure
The camp was a result of the united efforts of friends, families and supporters in Louisiana who brought together all the elements for the course. The high points of the summer course were the closing medieval games and banquet.
A letter from HIRH Prince Bertrand of Orleans-Braganza to the participants of the TFP Summer Camp was read before the closing Rosary procession: “I pray, therefore, to the Most Holy Virgin that she not only bless these days in which you gather around the ideals of Catholic Chivalry in the twenty-first century, but above all, she make you authentic soldiers of Christ as were St. Louis, King of France, St. Ferdinand of Castile, Godfrey of Bouillon and so many other heroic defenders of the Faith.”
From richly sewn banners to delicious Cajun cooking, the atmosphere at the final medieval banquet in the camp’s decorated outdoor pavilion was unforgettable. Parents joined their sons who displayed their knightly manners at the dinner presided over by Msgr. Robert Berggreen of St. Agnes Parish in Baton Rouge. All heard a short discourse by Mr. Bret Clesi, an actual Knight of Malta, who spoke on the present day mission of his order.
“We tried to instill in the boys the idea that heroism is not a thing of the past,” said Thomas Drake, head of the TFP’s Louisiana office and coordinator of the event. “I could not be happier at their response to this challenge.”
The motto of one of the military religious orders at the time of the Crusades was: “The most beautiful adventure in the world is ours.”
As the final evening finished, that motto appeared to express the sentiments of the participants as they left ready to defend the Faith amid today’s hostile culture.