By Robin Denney
Youth from All Saints’, their friends, and youth from other parts of the diocese participated in a two-day Hunger Games-themed retreat in November. The youth played games, watched the movie, ate food from the books, participated in a role-playing game, and discussed the deeper themes of the books. The event was a great success, thanks to the twenty-one youth participants, four chaperones, and four cooks and helpers. The Hunger Games is a very popular young adult book trilogy. The books at surface level contain gruesome violence, dark themes, and hopelessness, but if you look deeper the books are a critique of violence and oppression both in the world and in popular culture. The author accurately portrays the effect of violence and trauma on the individual and on society, an accuracy which is grossly lacking in most box-office action movies or video games.
In the role-playing game which was modeled after the books, youth were assigned to be either government officials who controlled the microphone and made the rules, citizens of the capitol who enjoyed excessive luxury, or citizens of the districts who were required to produce products for the capitol while having no freedom. By playing out these roles, the youth experienced some of the emotions related to oppression, as well as concepts like the instability of despotic governments and the power of propaganda.
During the hour-long discussion, which took place on the beach at the close of our Hunger Games Event, the youth explored the themes of the books more deeply. They had thought a lot about the meaning of the books, and found hope and inspiration in the main character, who despite being forced through unthinkable trauma does not lose her humanity or her desire to make a better future for the people she loves and the next generation.
Two priests helped facilitate the discussion, Amy Denney Zuniga, who studied liberation theology as a Fulbright Scholar in El Salvador, and Katherine Doar, who also studied liberation theology. They talked about Archbishop Oscar Romero, a modern day martyr and saint, and his approach and response to violence and oppression, as well as liberation theology in the context of the war in El Salvador. Our youth leader, Robin Denney, also spoke about the Christians in South Sudan and the oppression and war which they endured. The youth discussed Jesus’ call to us, and compared Jesus’ earthly journey through oppression and violence to the stories in the book, realizing that Jesus’ radical forgiveness (which is non-existent in the books) is a truly powerful and world-changing thing.
A special thank you to Cathi Clay, Alexia Norton-Jones, Remy Ryan, and Susan Sonnthal, who provided amazing Hunger Games-themed food, and helped with the logistics! And thanks to youth and chaperones from St. Francis San Jose, St. Barnabas Arroyo Grande, and St. Luke’s Hollister for participating!