Taking youth ministry to new heights

  • July 10, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - The new lay director of the Office of Catholic Youth said he plans to take the archdiocese of Toronto to a new level when it comes to serving teens and young adults.

Christian Elia, who has replaced Fr. Edwin Gonsalves, OCY director for the past three years, said the office will now focus more on formation, communication, reaching out to diocesan boundaries with new locations for events and joining together the various youth organizations and ministries.

“The (youth) who are involved, we know they are excited about youth ministry, but they must be well-churched, love our church and love our clergy,” Elia said.

He said he wants to ensure that youth continue to be passionate about the church, be willing to defend it and avoid taking a consumeristic approach to youth ministry.

Elia has been involved in youth ministry and events for many years. For example, in 2002, he volunteered several months of his time for the World Youth Day preparations in Toronto. He worked with the national WYD office and helped organize the pilgrims hosting program and the Way of the Cross for the parishes in Zone 5. He is a Grand Knight with the Knights of Columbus and volunteers at his parish, St. Pius X, preparing young confirmandi. But the OCY office is not foreign to him. Elia has volunteered with the office for several years.

“I’m just thrilled to be working for the church,” he said. “I’ve spent so many years volunteering. To get paid for something that I’m good at, it’s a joy.”

Since formation and prayer are key points in Elia’s plan, every day he gathers together the people in his office to pray the Angelus. He also encourages them to attend Mass daily.

To help boost that formation curve among the youth of the diocese, Elia said he plans for the OCY to work closely with Archbishop Thomas Collins and incorporate the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

To start, at the Midland Shrine World Youth Day Ontario Regional Event in July, the OCY was to hand out a copy of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to all attendees.

To further formation in a fun way, Elia would like to have a speaker series for young adults, also open to interested teens, who he believes are quite capable of handling important topics. As an example, he cited the OCY’s youth banquet in May, during which nearly 400 teens listened intently to the yearly event’s first keynote speaker, Bishop Macram Max Gassis of Sudan.

To improve communication and collaboration within the archdiocese, Elia said he also hopes to organize a committee of priests, one from each of the 14 zones in the archdiocese, who would volunteer as a youth chaplain for their area. This would give parishioners a central person to contact about youth issues. He would also like to see events held in the farther reaches of the archdiocese, so that more youth get the chance to take part.

One last point Elia said he considers important is the use of feast days. He said there is no reason why events shouldn’t be planned on dates which already have a liturgical, historical or cultural importance to Catholics. This is why he has chosen Sept. 27 for a walking pilgrimage to St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Not only will it serve as a reunion day for pilgrims who attended the World Youth Day events in Sydney, Australia, in Midland Ont., and the Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City, but it also falls on both the feast day of the St. Michael the Archangel and the 160th anniversary of the cathedral.

Elia holds four degrees, including a PhD from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

He has been teaching at high schools in the Greater Toronto Area since 1999 and most recently worked with special needs students at Dante Alighieri Academy.

Gonsalves is returning to pastoral ministry at St. Barnabas parish in Scarborough. He said Elia is a man of vision and ideas who will take the youth of the archdiocese to a new level.

“He’s got a passion for young people,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said working with youth in a full-time capacity strengthened his faith as a priest and that it was both a gift and a blessing to be appointed and to share in their love for the church.

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