Three students moved closer to the Blessed Sacrament during a guided Adoration at a Young Disciples event at Toronto’s Catholic Education Centre. Photo by Shara Singh, TCDSB

New school program forms young disciples in Toronto

  • December 6, 2018

Coming from a public elementary school, Kayla Mia Adato was unsure what to expect when she attended the Young Disciples day retreat with 120 fellow students. 

“It’s my first time attending an actual Catholic event,” said the Grade 9 student from Senator O’Connor College School. “Coming from a public school, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into here, but surprisingly, I learned a lot more than I thought.”

From Nov. 20-29, the Toronto Catholic District School Board organized a series of day retreats throughout the region for students in Grades 6 to 12. The Young Disciples program is a new initiative launched this year to help students mature in their faith through a teaching Mass, guided Adoration and a series of community building activities. 

More than 1,300 students participated in five events across the city. Michelle Peres, religion and family life resource teacher in the eastern region at TCDSB, spearheaded the pilot program last year. She said she’s been amazed by the feedback the program has been getting. 

“It would be good for the students to understand that they have a call,” said Peres. “The teachers see the hunger and the need for it. They see the students need some sort of connection.”

Adato said her favourite part of the day was being able to ask Toronto Auxiliary Bishop Wayne Kirkpatrick what advice he would give to students. 

“He told us to really engage and participate in the community and to embrace God’s gifts. I didn’t think of it that way, and it was really good to learn,” she said. 

Kirkpatrick celebrated a teaching Mass Nov. 29 at the Catholic Education Centre. During the celebration, he paused to explain the liturgical significance and symbolism in parts of the Mass. He taught students about the liturgical books, rituals and even about his vestments as a bishop. He told stories of his ordination as a bishop and meeting Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and, most recently, Pope Francis.

“We see people on TV or we see them at a distance or even your local priest at the local parish and you might think, well, he won’t understand me. He won’t know where I’m coming from,” said Kirkpatrick during the teaching Mass. “Well, guess what? Where do you think the priest came from? From the pews, like you.”

After the teaching Mass, students broke off into small groups to discuss their role in discipleship and how to take what they learned back to their schools. 

“You can see that people who are about the same age as you also go to church and have the same kind of faith that you do,” said Kavishka Gomes, Grade 10 student from Neil McNeil High School. 

“You have to take the initiative and speak about your faith. And I’m going to go back to school and try to spread the Word of God, try to make other students realize who God is and who Jesus is.”

For many of the students who attended the Young Disciples events, it was their first experience of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Susan HooKong-Taylor, religion resource teacher at TCDSB’s Catholic Teachers’ Centre, said it was important to introduce this form of prayer to students in a time when there are so many technological distractions in the world. 

“When we create an opportunity for students to feel comfortable, they’re really grateful for the time, for a moment of peace to listen to your heart. I think that’s so crucial,” she said.

Peres said the school board feels encouraged by the positive feedback they have received from students, teachers and parents. 

After a successful pilot project last year, the number of participants doubled at this year’s official launch. Peres said she had to turn away several schools because the events were at capacity. 

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