Archbishop Alexander Sample blesses young men taking part in Quo Vadis Days at Camp Howard. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Portland)
Archbishop Alexander Sample blesses young men taking part in Quo Vadis Days at Camp Howard. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Portland)
From June 24-27, about 70 young men from across the Archdiocese of Portland gathered at Camp Howard for Quo Vadis Days, an annual camp for those discerning the priesthood.

With a scenic backdrop of trees, mountains, creeks and good weather, the boys prayed, played and listened to priests give powerful testimonies of their discernment and vocational journeys.

As the camp’s English translation — “Where are you going?”— indicates, every activity focused on helping participants discern God’s plan for their lives, and whether that plan includes the priesthood.

In a talk on the camp’s second day, Father Timothy Furlow said true discernment comes with placing oneself in God’s care.

“Discernment is when we’re able to hear God speak to us,” Father Furlow said. “When we’re distant from him, we can’t hear him. If we’re going to be the type of men who discern God’s will, we have to spend time with him.”

Father Furlow, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland. said he had been discerning the priesthood while in college but then began dating a girl he had met while studying abroad. However, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was called to something else. Then, in a moment of prayerful discernment, God made his plan clear.

“I was in adoration and the Lord asked me, ‘Do you love this girl?’ and I said, ‘Well, yes.’ And God asked, ‘Do you think I’m calling you to be a priest?’ And I knew in my heart of hearts that he was. ‘Well, if I’m calling you to be a priest, that means I have a different plan for this girl, and if you truly love this girl, you won’t mess with that plan.’ So I ended that relationship in order to pursue the priesthood.”

Newly ordained Father Peter Julia followed the theme of discernment in his homily, telling the young men not to be afraid of the call.

“If God’s calling you to the priesthood, he’s calling you,” Father Julia said, emphasizing the last word. “He’s calling you with both your strengths and your weaknesses.”

Father Julia had given his testimony the night before, telling the boys about losing his fiance to cancer before discovering his priestly vocation.

“It’s an inspiration to me as I form my own vocation story,” said Jesus Aguirre Gonzalez, a member of St. Mark Parish in Eugene who is applying for seminary. “Father Julia was talking about how his story was one of grief after losing his fiance, and that’s also how mine started, except mine involved my grandparents.”

As birds chirped outside, Portland seminarians led small groups to discuss the talks. It became clear that the boys were impacted by the priests’ words.

William Haren, of St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg, said, “It’s nice to know that other guys are going through the same things as you. Discussing our trials helps us support each other because we’re all trying to get through this crazy life and honor God as true Catholic men want to do.”

But Quo Vadis Days wasn’t just serious. A big part of the week was enjoying the outdoor adventures Camp Howard offered. After Mass was recreation time and the boys chose from fishing, swimming, basketball, ziplines and more. Father Julia oversaw the fishing group, joking that they might one day become “fishers of men.”

Marco Sanchez, from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Aloha, looked on as his peers cast their rods, hoping to reel in “the big one.”

“I’m not gonna try to catch any fish,” he said, laughing. “There’s no way I could.”

But just 15 minutes later, Sanchez had grabbed a pole and reeled his first catch in, grinning widely as he exclaimed, “I got one!”

Samuel Gomolski, who attends Mass at Mount Angel Abbey, caught several fish before deciding to let someone else try.

“This is a lot of fun,” he said. “On the first day, everyone is pretty shy and on the second day, the ice starts breaking and things start changing. We’re all pretty much brothers to each other.”

Quo Vadis Days followed a routine of constant prayer. The boys, some for the first time, prayed the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day, and Mass was celebrated by one of the many priests attending.

“Having the constant reminder to pray really brings you into knowing the presence of God throughout your day,” said Haren.

“There are very little distractions from the outside world,” Sanchez added. “It’s just us with God. It reminds us of why we’re here — to discern.”

Tony Beyer, a second-year seminarian, said Quo Vadis Days played a big part in his vocation story and Alvarez called it a helpful tool for discernment.

“Quo Vadis Days helps a lot because this is where you can learn more about how your vocation is,” Alvarez said. “You can think back to how Jesus Christ has talked through the people you’ve known or actions that you’ve never noticed before. But now looking back, you can see him working in your life.”