Vlad Mamaradlo, is lay youth minister at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Thornhill, Ont. He’s one of a growing breed of youth ministers throughout the archdiocese.

An evolving youth ministry

  • February 7, 2015

TORONTO - Young people aren’t the future of the Church, says Andrew Santos, they are the present. 

Santos is part of a growing trend in the Archdiocese of Toronto where parishes hire full-time youth ministers to encourage  engagement of a parish’s younger members.

Based out of St. Justin Martyr parish in Unionville, Ont., Santos’ portfolio of activities is diverse, from running Edge and LifeTeen youth ministry programs to sacramental prep such as Confirmation and First Communion to high school chaplaincy and much more.

He says his job is about “looking out for the needs of our young people in the various ministries that the Church has to offer.”

His position and that of his fellow youth ministers in the archdiocese is the fulfilment of orders from above — from Cardinal Thomas Collins and his pastoral plan. The pastoral plan mentions “youth” and “young people” a total of 35 times in various contexts and with various goals in mind, including revitalizing the Church and staying connected to faith from childhood to adulthood.

“We strongly encourage all of our parishes to form Youth Councils and to seriously consider hiring a youth minister — on their own or in partnership with neighbouring parishes,” states the plan. “First and foremost, our parishes will make it a priority to reach out to our young people and families.”

Sometimes, prioritizing means directing funds in support of a project, event or initiative that may not have been previously funded.

Santos says there’s been a break in the idea that youth ministers should be working for free.

“Ministry and program should never just revolve around money,” he said. But “the people who should be in ministry, we need to invest in them… Just like the government invests money in social services to make sure people are cared for, the Church needs to do the same thing.”

Santos continued: “We need the partnership of everybody in the Church, we need the prayers, we need the support, we need the love and generosity of people. We need time and talent. But at the end of the day, we also need treasure.”

The pastoral plan informs parishes where they can look for external support: the Office for Catholic Youth. The OCY realizes that not every parish can afford to hire a youth minister, so in accordance with the Family of Faith fundraising campaign, the archdiocese is dedicating up to $5 million over 10 years to subsidize the cost for those parishes with “fewer resources,” said Fr. Frank Portelli, director of the OCY.

As of January 2015, the OCY is aware of at least 17 full-time, 12 part-time and 34 volunteer youth ministers in the archdiocese.

“There is a trend towards hiring a full-time youth minister,” said Portelli, but pastors are being cautious. “They don’t want to invest in something that isn’t going to be long and lasting and integrated fully into the parish. They want to understand how youth ministry is being done today.”

And so the OCY wants to bridge any gaps between the pastor’s and the youth minister’s expectations by providing training and by “putting them on the same page, sharing a vision,” said Portelli. “As Pope Francis says, go and make a mess in your dioceses. Once you start having this kind of outreach, faith and fun together, creativity comes about, the Spirit leads.”

The Spirit can lead parishes into increased church attendance through youth ministry.

“Young people come, they bring their friends. Young people come, they bring their parents. The elderly who have always been there love seeing them. And it just becomes a very positive experience for everybody,” said Vlad Mamaradlo, lay youth minister at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Thornhill, Ont.

In 2014, the parish brought 210 students and 27 chaperones to Steubenville Toronto, making it the parish with the largest group at the Catholic youth conference.

“The numbers speak for themselves. Because I’m here full-time, I was able to invest a good number of my energies into making this place youth friendly and a place where young people can feel at home and a place young people can be proud of,” said Mamaradlo. “The added benefit of that is then kids bring their parents and the parents bring the envelopes because parents are always willing to invest in their children. And so with the envelopes, you have that financial support and that financial backing to be able to subsidize half of the registration fee, for example for Steubenville, to give more young people the opportunity to come.”

Portelli adds that he’s seeing success when a youth minister focuses on the Grade 6-8 age group for a couple years because by the time they are teenagers, they will want more faith-based activities and parishes can then have a base to start a high school ministry. Some parishes start their youth ministry for Grade 3-5 students, he said, and some parishes gather enough youth to send to Edge camp every summer in Halliburton for “a mix of our Catholic identity and fun."

“Parishes need to pray, they need to discern, they need to reflect upon the pastoral plan of the diocese. The cardinal is making huge strides in terms of making sure that the youngest of our parishioners are being taken care of,” said Santos.

“We need to make that investment and make sure that church is the place to be, whether it’s on a Sunday morning or it’s on a Friday night.”

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