Quo vadis — it’s a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going?” In the Bible, it is found in John 13:36 just before the Last Supper. Peter asks Jesus where he is going, to which the Lord replies, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.”
These days, quo vadis is being asked to young men across the country. Quo Vadis Days is the name of a summer program that brings together young men thinking about a priestly vocation for several days of prayer, fellowship and recreation.
The program is the inspiration of Father John Cihak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.
“In 1999, I was flying home from Rome to begin life as a parish priest and I just sensed in my prayer a tug from the Lord to do something to promote vocations to the priesthood at the high school level,” Father Cihak told Our Sunday Visitor.
He and a classmate organized the first Quo Vadis Days in the Jubilee Year 2000 with just 22 boys attending. At last count, Father Cihak says that the program is now in eight dioceses and growing.
“The idea of Quo Vadis Days has exceeded my expectations,” he said. “But then again, when we put ourselves and plans in the hands of the Lord, we really shouldn’t be surprised at what he can do.”
In the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., Father Bill Waltersheid told OSV that he expected more than 100 young men to sign up for this year’s five-day experience. This summer’s program will be the fifth year Harrisburg has offered Quo Vadis Days to men ages 15 to 25.
Father Waltersheid, who serves as his diocese’s Secretary for Clergy and Consecrated Life, has been amazed at the young men’s willingness to take in all things spiritual.
“They are really into the spiritual part of it,” he said. “These are ordinary young men with a number of questions about the faith, vocations and especially in vocations to the priesthood.”
In the Archdiocese of Seattle, Father Derek Lappe would agree with that portrayal. Father Lappe, who serves as the pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton, Wash., has been organizing Quo Vadis Days with the help of another priest in his diocese for the past eight years. The first year they started they had 12 teens. This summer they expect to have nearly 100 high school students.
“Kids these days do not have a lot of opportunity to just be around priests. We are kind of busy, running around all the time, and we just show up for Mass in their eyes. So, it gives the kids the chance to just be around priests,” Father Lappe told OSV.
Both Father Waltersheid and Father Lappe noted that by the end of the week there is always a strong sense of community that has taken shape among the young men. In Harrisburg, this camaraderie doesn’t stop when the last camper goes home.
“We continue to meet with the young men who have attended Quo Vadis Days and continue to help the men discern what God is asking of them,” Father Waltersheid said.
Firsthand look at vocation
In 2004, Deacon Joe Altenhofen attended his first Quo Vadis Days. Later this month, the 28-year-old will be ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle. Since his first Quo Vadis Days as a participant, Deacon Altenhofen has come back each summer to help lead the weeklong program.
Personally, the future priest noted that this week of faith and fun helped him to see that the priesthood could be a reality in his own life.
“It helped me see myself as a worker in Christ in these normal settings. The priest is not one who just works in the office, or does sacramental things,” he told OSV. “It was good to see people that were like me out there and just doing ‘guy things.’”
Deacon Altenhofen said that for any young man who is not sure if he should sign up for a Quo Vadis Days this summer, the answer is clear: Go for it.
“I would recommend going, because, no matter what your situation in life is, this gives you a chance to step away and see the world through the lens of Christ with people who are on a similar journey. It’s a lot of fun and a great experience wherever you are on your faith journey.”
Eddie O’Neill writes from Wisconsin. For more information on Quo Vadis Days, visit www.qvdays.org.