By Joseph Staniunas, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Jesse Derringer traces his hike on a map for his parents, Beth and Dan Derringer.

For 17-year-old Jesse Derringer of Blue Ridge a two-week trip to New Mexico was a chance to stretch his long legs in the mountains and strengthen his Catholic faith.or 17-year-old Jesse Derringer of Blue Ridge a two-week trip to New Mexico was a chance to stretch his long legs in the mountains and strengthen his Catholic faith.

The rising senior at Roanoke Catholic High School was one of 78 participants from dioceses around the country selected for the annual St. George Trek run by the National Catholic Committee on Scouting (NCCS) at the Philmont Scout Ranch. He was the only Scout from the Diocese of Richmond.

“There’s a quiet time during backpacking,” he said during an interview at his home in Botetourt County. “And I would just say a rosary to myself in my head and just look out over the valley and see how awesome creation is.”

Divided into groups or “crews” of ten, with two adult guides—including a separate crew for 10 girls—their journey through the aptly named Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) range of the Rockies was like that of many campers: up at 4-5 a.m. to catch the sunrise; several hours on the trail with a 50-pound pack at 12-14 thousand feet above sea level. Near day’s end they set up tents, gathered their food into bags designed to thwart hungry bears and got some rest.

“It was really nice when we got there early in the afternoon, around 2 or 3, because then we could take part in Operation HP…horizontal prayer,” Jesse said with a grin.

But that wasn’t the only way they prayed.

At one point, all of the crews gathered for a sunrise Mass, a reconciliation service and outdoor adoration.

Jesse also said a few rosaries with a tent mate. “It was just us two praying the rosary together because we liked it,” he said. “We got to talk about the faith one night pretty deeply. I’m hoping we can stay in touch to push each other to be better spiritually.”

The priests who accompanied them were able to relax, too, and showed the scouts how rewarding the religious life can be.

“The experience I’ve had with priests is sort of professional for the most part where they’re doing their job and they have a priestly image they have to uphold,” Jesse said. “When they’re backpacking they get to be more themselves. One of the priests wore superhero t-shirts. He said Mass in a Captain America shirt once. You really got to know their personality and it reaffirms the fact that priests are real people.”

Discernment is one of the main goals of the St. George Trek—helping young people recognize a vocation and glimpse a life of poverty and obedience. “We got to experience a little bit of that with backpacking because we really didn’t have that much,” Jesse said. “And, we were supposed to follow the lead of the crew leaders.”

Jesse says some of the hikers had already come to realize that the priesthood isn’t for them; he’s one of those who are still considering it.

Jesse’s crew mates hike ahead of him as they approach Baldy Mountain

Community is a big part of religious formation too. And the program let them try that on by asking them to think first of the needs of the group before their own. “Everything you do you have to do for them so you sort of have to think of everyone else first in the crew,” Jesse said. “You help set up camp, hang up the bear bags, do all of the work for the crew first.”

Jesse’s mom, Beth Derringer, is the one who saw the announcement for the St. George Trek and suggested he apply. “I love the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church working together to really do something unique and I’m thrilled Jesse was able to do that,” she said.