Parish youth ministry needs to be a priority

By  Lisa Petsche
  • August 28, 2008

{mosimage}My two daughters spent a week at camp this summer — in the mountains of northeast Georgia. That’s a long way to travel, I know, 990 kilometres to be exact. But it’s an experience they couldn’t get around here, at least not to my knowledge.

The camp, Covecrest, is operated by Life Teen, a non-profit, Eucharist-centred Catholic ministry focused on leading teens into a closer relationship with Christ. Originally a single-parish program in Arizona, Life Teen can now be found in more than a dozen countries.

The model is a Mass aimed at teens and their families, followed by an interactive catechetical session called a Life Night that brings the faith to life, addressing, within a Catholic framework, relevant issues for teens today.

Life Teen offers parishes teaching resources, training programs, retreats and camps that are faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. To learn more, visit the web site at www.lifeteen.com.

My sister in Florida is a group leader with her parish’s Life Teen ministry. She invited my daughters to join their group at Covecrest, described on the web site as “a place of rest and recreation for the purpose of establishing a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and those people that are in your church, group or school.”

Catholic amenities include a century-old chapel where Mass is held daily, outdoor Stations of the Cross and a prayer garden. Recreational opportunities range from soccer and beach volleyball to rope challenge courses and whitewater rafting.

The ministry team consists of trained college-age staff, experienced musicians, priests and veteran youth ministers. They incorporate the camp theme, which this year was “Amazing Grace,” into all the activities.

Following camp, the girls spent two-and-a-half weeks at my sister’s home. They participated in her parish’s Life Teen programming, which includes Sunday evening Mass and Life Night and Wednesday evening Mass followed by a Fun Night of recreation and socializing. A trained youth minister on the parish staff serves as co-ordinator.

My daughters returned home psyched about their Life Teen experiences. They no longer grumble about attending Mass, and they’ve been wearing their camp T-shirts, creating scrapbooks and conversing daily online with their Florida friends — all indications of how meaningful it was to be part of St. Frances Cabrini’s Life Teen group.

Not surprisingly, the girls have asked: Why don’t we have Life Teen (or something similar) here? It’s a good question.

I’m not aware of anything in our area, but a search on the Life Teen web site for parish programs in Canada produced 85 results. In contrast, within eight kilometres of my sister’s home, two parishes offer Life Teen programs and within 80 kilometres there are 19.

In my sister’s diocese, you see, people have to pay to attend Catholic school, so many young Catholics end up in the public education system. Consequently, catechizing youth, nurturing their faith and integrating them into parish communities is a high priority.

Although we are fortunate to have publicly funded Catholic schools here, I believe our Catholic youth also need something more. Many (dare I say most) of them don’t regularly attend Mass, typically because their parents aren’t practising the faith. Their religious instruction and spiritual formation is left entirely to school staff — needless to say, an unreasonable expectation.

Given that it’s not cool to be Catholic in today’s society, and immorality is everywhere, it’s more important than ever that Catholics of all ages be part of a committed community, especially of peers, in order to stay strong and keep growing in faith.

Impressionable youth need this most of all.

Information about the faith simply isn’t enough. They also need role models with whom they can identify, young Catholics who are passionately living that faith in their daily lives, and they need to be challenged to do likewise.

To that end, my hope and prayer is that parish-level youth programming such as Life Teen will become the norm in all Catholic communities.

We must do everything we can to support our young people on their faith journey and help them recognize and utilize their God-given gifts.

If we don’t engage them, they will drift away, and what a loss that will be — for all of us.

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