Dr. Brian Doran prepares the troops for battle in the rain at Camp Arcātheos.
Mediaeval battles are a central feature at a summer camp that strives to stoke the fires of true manhood in the hearts of Catholic boys.
Camp Arcātheos is a five-day summer camp near Turner Valley that aims to give boys the spiritual and physical training they need to become good Catholic men, willing and able to defend the faith.
At Arcātheos, which means Stronghold of God, sons battle their dads with foam swords and even fire water-balloons by catapult against a menacing horde of evil villains.
In keeping with the rustic mediaeval theme, the boys sleep in large tents on individual cots. Almost everybody at the camp is dressed in mediaeval gear and battles each other in a mediaeval way.
Actually the whole camp — held each year during the first week of August — is a series of large tents set up like a military base camp. The only large building on the property is used as a chapel.
Last year, 140 boys took part in the camp, including 40 officers or camp counsellors aged 13 to 17. In addition, about 80 to 90 adults attended.
Although camp officials want to serve the dioceses of Edmonton and Calgary, they realized quickly that theirs is a Western Canadian camp. Campers come from all the western provinces as well as the United States and Mexico.
Previously known as Camp Rivendell, the camp was started by a group of Catholic men from the Edmonton area in Sylvan Lake back in 2003. Its rapid growth and the need for a more rugged setting led organizers to move it to its current location the following year.
The camp used the Lord of the Rings theme for the first seven years, changing it to Arcātheos a year ago. Arcātheos is supposed to be the most sought after of all the kingdoms and also the oldest and most highly fortified.
A defense of the fort is mounted
"The reason we started this camp is we wanted to create an exciting camp for boys that would take them on adventure, would make use of some theatrics," camp director Dr. Brian Doran said in an interview. "Basically, the primary goal was to bring them closer to Christ and to show them what a man of God is supposed to be like."
Later, in an email, Doran, one of the camp founders, said the camp fills a specific need in society, "a need that was not being fulfilled because many boys are growing up with poor role models of who and what a man is called to be."
"To be able to bring these boys to see who Christ was, so they would be able to imitate his authentic representation of true manhood is the vision of Arcātheos."
The camp also seeks to form boys through leadership, catechesis "and basic skills that all men should know," he said. "The goal of which is to help provide our Church with stronger husbands, fathers or priests, each according to the call God has for them."
Doran, a father of six who is currently completing his residence in family medicine in Okotoks, says the intent of the camp was never to be merely a means of passive entertainment.
"Rather, it is to continue on as a life-changing opportunity where seeds are planted, soil is tilled and great fruits are born according to God's grace."
Boys attending the camp are encouraged to do their best in all aspects of their lives. "At camp, we teach a broad range of skills that every man should have in his arsenal."
These include basic wilderness skills for survival, good sportsmanship, discipline, teamwork and effective leadership. The camp also features a mediaeval tournament that consists of archery, jousting, swordsmanship and running the gauntlet.
"The thing that makes us probably the most legendary is our whole missions and themes that they go through where they end up with dads dressed up as dark characters that end up fighting them in battles with foam swords," Doran said.
"The boys have access to catapults that can shoot water balloons more than 400 feet. And we hire a pyrotechnics team who set up small explosions, smoke grenades and fog so all the scenes seem as real as possible."
The camp is an apostolate of Regnum Christi, an apostolic movement recognized by the Holy See.
"The formation of a boy into an authentic man of God necessitates a balanced foundation," states the camp's website. "Arcātheos aims to support this endeavour through an understanding of the domains of human, spiritual, apostolic, and intellectual formation."
The formation received at Arcātheos is based on the Catholic principles of spiritual development. Its programs are designed to instill virtue, develop character and encourage spiritual growth.
"For the spiritual side of the camp we have daily Mass, rosary, spiritual talks, morning and night prayers, and meditations," Doran said.
Adults at the camp also attend talks to help them realize the "their whole mission there is to be good examples, men of God, for these boys." There are usually seven clergy on the property each year. Last year Father Paul Terrio, the director of vocations for the Edmonton Archdiocese, visited the camp and celebrated Mass with the campers.
Ave Spratt, the camp assistant director, has been involved with the camp from the beginning. His three sons have attended. "It's a leadership program," he says of the camp experience. "That's really what it is; we are teaching these boys to be leaders in society going forward."
Boys who attended the camp six years ago are now serving as counsellors or officers. "They come to the camp five days before the camp opens to the regular campers and are trained to look after the boys, of course, all with adult supervision."
Dads help run the camp as well. "We think it's a good father-son time together in a different experience away from mom and the sisters so that boys can be boys and dads can be dads," Spratt explained. "So that's how we turn boys into men."
Although there is time for fathers to check up on how their sons are doing, the majority of their time is spent preparing theatrical scenes, ambushes, teaching wilderness skills, mentoring, serving the boys and dressing up as villains to battle their sons.
"We love doing it. It's great to see these boys over the years grow in their faith. That's what is most important to us," Spratt said.
In the future camp officials are hoping to build a castle complete with towers, bunkhouse and mess hall "so we can make use of it several times a year for continued training," Doran said. "We are in the early stages of getting approval and getting our fundraising in place."