Engaging youth 'COR' of program's success

  • January 30, 2009
{mosimage}KING CITY, Ont. - Parish youth groups and yearly events can and often do fade into non-existence after a few years. Leaders burn out, decide to move on or simply aren’t getting the assistance they need.

But that isn’t the case with the Christ in Others Retreat held every year in King City, Ont., just north of Toronto. The community has been hosting its series of COR non-stop since 1984 with the leadership of Fr. John Yake, chaplain at Villanova College.

COR, a ministry for students in Grades 11 and 12, was started in the United States and first made its way to St. Catharines, Ont., in 1970 and then to other parts of Canada. It spread to Toronto, where Yake was invited to assist in his first COR. When he became chaplain at Sacred Heart School in Newmarket he started his own program. That same COR community carried on at Villanova College when he moved there and has remained the only stable COR group in the Toronto area for the past 25 years.

“Of anything we had to offer them, this seemed to be the only thing they were attracted to,” Yake told The Catholic Register. “I believe that if every school parish had a COR, the diocese would be transformed.”

Yake said the continued success in attracting both youth and leaders is because of five guiding principles, which he talked about in his book The Theory of Religious Ministry to Youth: Faith Development and the Christ in Others Retreat. Yake said his theory of youth ministry, if used in other youth ministry programs, would help them succeed too.

“Because COR brings youth into its community in order to listen to them rather than to preach to them, it offers the church an effective model of ministry as theological reflection,” he wrote in his book, published in 2005.

Yake believes World Youth Days led by the Pope are also successful because they operate on the basis of those five principles too, which he identified as:

  • Engage adolescents in effective evangelizing issues;
  • Employ youth-appropriate evangelizing structures;
  • Call forth those who are gifted evangelizers;
  • Use evangelizing program styles; and
  • Maintain the spirit of evangelization.

He expands on each of these in multiple paragraphs, but essentially, the message is to be theologically grounded while creating specific activities and experiences that allow the teens to feel God’s love, develop relationships and use the tools of prayer effectively while experiencing community. The group must also have a good spiritual director.

“It’s not the academic paradigm. It’s a co-operative working with each other.”

But to explain what COR consists of in this article would ruin the retreat’s impact for those who read it, Yake said. Part of the draw for youth is that events throughout the weekend are kept a secret. Teens who attend a COR must keep the details of the retreat from those who have never experienced one and encourage them to apply the following year.

Yake said that over the years, youth have approached him with stories of strong personal conversion. One youth told him that he had brought drugs with him to the retreat, but flushed them down the toilet the first night when he realized the truth about his faith.

“Everyone who comes to COR is very elated,” he said. “God should have that effect on our lives. There’s a huge conversion experience.”

COR only takes place one weekend per year, as it takes six months of preparation.

But for Elya Gurizzan, 23, COR is always something to get excited about. Since doing her first COR in Grade 11, she has continued helping as a volunteer.

“I’ve dedicated myself year after year because (I’ve) seen the results. I strongly believe in it and I think everybody should able to do it,” she said. “I want to make sure their COR is as special as mine was.”

Currently, the Pope John Paul II COR 6 team, as the group is called, is planning a retreat for April.

Gurizzan said each part of the weekend is important, but a highlight is one activity that really helps the teens understand and appreciate the love their parents have for them.

“No one is forced to take the retreat. It’s all volunteer which makes the difference,” she said.

Youth must submit an application form, which makes it even more of a personal decision because the youth have to take that initiative.

“Generally, youth are more curious and if it’s a secret they’ll generally want to know what it is,” Gurizzan said. “I started off as a candidate because I really trusted Fr. Yake and his guidance.”

Diane Mey, now in her late 40s, did her first COR in Markham but now helps out with the one in King City. She said the youth always respond in the same way, no matter what new problems they are facing in society.

“(Teen) problems are different, but in my experience, teens are teens,” Mey said. “We are all searching for the same things.”

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