Together, in Youth Ministry
By Fr. Andy Davy, MIC (Jul 20, 2013)
I am always amazed at how God fulfills the desires put on our hearts. Ever since high school and college, I have had a desire to share the Gospel with the young hearts — with children and the youth. And now as the pastor of one of the Marians' parishes in the Midwest — St. Mary Parish, in Plano, Ill. — the Lord gives me the opportunity every day to share the Gospel with the young hearts, especially with the high school youth of my parish.
Because we are a parish of simple means and unable to pay for a youth minister, I have had the joy of stepping into the role of leading the youth ministry with a team of volunteers. I recently was able to chat with one of these devoted volunteers, Michaela Resendez, about some of the ways we approach youth ministry at St. Mary's, especially during this Year of Faith. Michaela has worked with youth ministry and Hispanic ministry within the parish for about four years.
Here is a little snapshot of our conversation:
Fr. Andy: Michaela, let's talk first about some of the basic dynamics of St. Mary's youth ministry?
Michaela: I think one of the key principles to mention write off the bat that has helped us quadruple the number of youth at our regular meetings is the importance of listening to our youth. What are they hungry for? What would they like to do and to grow in? By listening to them, we build a program around what they are looking for, instead of making a program first and telling them that they should like it. The kids see that they are being listened to, and they respond in some beautiful ways.
Fr. Andy: Yeah, one of those beautiful ways is how the youth voiced a desire to learn the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YOUCAT). After the YOUCAT came out, several youth came up to me, asking if this could be our next youth study. I was a little hesitant at first, because at this time no one had created any sort of study guide for the YOUCAT. But since they insisted, I said, "Well, I'll just have to create a youth study for the YOUCAT." So we are kind of stepping out into the deep and making a youth study as we go. The kids have responded well to jumping into the YOUCAT.
Michaela: I think one of the key things that have grabbed their attention in this YOUCAT study is that balance of learning and goofiness. The youth respond well to mixing the two together. Remember the soup?
Fr. Andy: Oh Yeah ... I blew up soup to prove the point Pope Benedict XVI made beautifully in his forward to the YOUCAT. Pope Benedict said, "You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. ... You need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents." I said to myself, "This is an awesome point the youth need to hear. How can it get stuck in their minds so they don't forget." And no joke, this crazy thought came to me in prayer: "Blow up soup with concentrated baking soda and vinegar! Just like a chef needs to know what exactly he is putting in his soup (he can't just "wing it" or it might blow up in his face!), so, too, a Catholic needs to know intimately his faith. He just can't vaguely know his faith in today's culture."
Michaela: That mix of "holy goofiness and learning about the faith" has really helped the youth to keep coming back for more. They love learning their Catholic faith and have fun doing it. Also, I think one of the key aspects that I have seen really make a difference in the response of the youth is the active role that their pastor takes in youth ministry.
Fr. Andy: I think this was lived out beautifully in the life of Blessed John Paul the Great. He walked right alongside the young people in their walk of faith. The World Youth Days are perfect examples of this ministry of accompaniment. We priests are called "Father" for a reason, and we need to spend time with our spiritual children, especially our youth. Wielding a Laser Tag Rifle at one moment really does wonders to improve your credibility when you sit down in another moment and teach the awesome truths of our Catholic faith. In the spirit of St. John Bosco, I have learned never to underestimate the power of having fun with the youth. It opens them to receive the Gospel and to grow in their faith. Several of these youth have started to come for spiritual direction, and I am awed at their capacity for spiritual maturity. One of them even recently entered the Dominicans in northern Mexico.
Michaela: It has been beautiful to see the young people respond to grow in their faith, especially during this Year of Faith. They are coming regularly to Mass and confession, serving various aspects of parish ministry, and are getting excited for this year's Franciscan University of Steubenville's Youth Conference.
Fr. Andy: That's right! Starting several years ago under Fr. Matt Lamoureux, MIC's direction, we have teamed up with our sister Marian parish of St. Patrick, in Yorkville, Ill., in taking several busloads of youth to this amazing conference. It is awesome to see the masks come off and they can be free to worship the Eucharistic Lord with abandonment! This is so key because we are competing with a powerful current of secularism and moral relativism in today's world, a current that is set up as an alternative Gospel. Our essential goal for all that is done in our youth ministry, everything from the crazy activities, to the different Bible studies, to the YOUCAT study, to Steubenville youth conference, is to help our youth stand strong in their faith and to experience the joy and freedom found in being Catholic!