TORONTO - My friends have seen my agendas, year after year, filled from the front to the back with to-do lists, various events and other little notes. With all of this organization and planning, it seems out of character for me to suddenly switch the university program I applied to for another right before the application deadline, making my future harder to visualize.

Published in YSN: Speaking Out

This past December, I had the privilege of helping feed the homeless at St. Francis Table on Queen Street West in Toronto with five of my Grade 12 classmates.

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TORONTO - At first, it was awkward. The Grade 10 students from St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic High School weren’t really sure what to do, so they stuck to the perimeter of the room. The St. Jude’s special needs clients, however, weren’t as shy. They swayed their hips and pumped their fists to music that praised God.

Published in Youth Speak News
January 11, 2013

Mass entertainment

It’s 10 a.m. on a wintry Sunday and you’re sitting in a solid wood pew. The priest has stepped down from the pulpit to stand between a Nativity scene and an Advent wreath with half-melted candles counting down the weeks before Christmas. He’s speaking warmly as he delivers a heartfelt homily.

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When Lindsay Rigby hears her phone beep in the wee hours of the morning, she knows it isn’t a work e-mail or a friend messaging her about going out for lunch. The little beep indicates that the rich tradition of the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church is being delivered to her iPhone.

Published in Youth Speak News
December 21, 2012

Hope for homeless youth

Family abuse, prostitution, teen parenthood, rejection because of sexual orientation and aging out of foster care without family — these are just a few reasons why 1.6 million young people are homeless in North America.

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Last week I went out to do a bit of shopping and, to my dismay, found myself at a store early in the morning surrounded by too many people. I had difficulty manoeuvring my shopping cart around shoppers, strollers and the odd employee re-arranging displays. Occasionally, I would overhear a grumble of frustration from another shopper. The experience was so overwhelming that I returned home with a headache.

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OTTAWA - Motion-312 may have been shot down in the House of Commons, but Stephen Woodworth hasn’t given up.

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Catholic Christian Outreach will open up its annual Rise Up conference to more people this year by hosting events in two locations.

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Crushes are all consuming when you’re a teenager. It’s all you can think about; it’s all you can talk about.

Published in YSN: Speaking Out
November 30, 2012

Fortitude and faith

It is all too easy for young people seeking acceptance and recognition to be attracted by the glitz and glamour of a pleasure-seeking lifestyle. The idea of sainthood or even martyrdom at a young age seems unfathomable and difficult to comprehend. Why suffer for an idea?

Published in YSN: Speaking Out
November 23, 2012

God is the key ingredient

In the summer of 2011, I spent at least three hours each day trying out new recipes that I found online. Baking, frying, steaming, roasting, barbecuing, and most of all, enjoying the food that I cooked.

My summer menu included simple dips like guacamole to more complicated dishes like Shepherd’s Pie, fettuccini alfredo, biryani and desserts like cakes and crepes.

Most of the time, I compromised the ingredients necessary for making a dish to prevent the grocery list from becoming too long. I substituted yogurt for sour cream, Nutella for sugar icing. But some ingredients are so vital, they should not be substituted.

I made mistakes with virtually every recipe and the worst was my pizza dough mishap. This ordinary recipe for a homemade pizza was ruined with an accidental reach into the wrong bag of flour.

I used whole wheat instead of all purpose flour. It was only after the pizza came out of the oven that I realized my mistake.

The pizza looked extra crispy and a little burnt. But even then, it still tasted delicious after I topped it with tomato sauce and cheese.

We are not unlike my pizza dough. Just as the pizza did not turn out as I expected, the mistakes that we make in our lives can make us feel overwhelmed and imperfect.

But God is like the cheese on the pizza. We all need God as our “topping” to enhance our taste, to bring out the best qualities in each one of us, to keep life more interesting. God is that crucial ingredient in our lives.

Having God in my life has helped me to make right choices. I have come to understand that when things don’t go as well as planned, God’s presence makes life beautiful. God gives me a positive attitude and gives meaning to everything. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move” (Matthew 17:20). With faith in God I can overcome any obstacles, in life and in the kitchen.

He is the icing on the cake that makes life sweet and smooth. God is the seaweed on the sushi that holds us in one piece when our lives seem to be falling apart. God completes who we are. He is the curry on the dosa, the ketchup on the hot dog, the corn beef with the rice, the sauce on the spaghetti. God is the cheese on the pizza.

(D’Souza, 16, is a Grade 11 International Baccalaureate student at Blessed Pope John Paul II in Toronto.)

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Do the laundry, finish research assignment, clean the kitchen, read chapters 10, 11 and 12, Skype Tessa, meet with my drama group, prep faith study and write my Youth Speak News column. This was my to-do list for one day.

I am chronically busy. If I ever lose my day planner, I don’t think I’ll be able to survive. Every hour of my day is accounted for by one commitment or another, and my situation is not unique.

Being busy seems like an inescapable part of being a young person today. I didn’t have to scroll very far down my Facebook news feed to find someone complaining about being “stressed.”

We’re a generation that “gets things done,” and society tells us that’s a good thing. Accomplish a lot. Keep moving. Don’t stop.

But what does God think?

While reading the Letter of James, I was struck by this verse: “In the midst of a busy life, they will wither away” (James 1:9).

Wither away? At first, I drew back from this verse. Maybe some other, weaker person might wither away, but not me. I have everything together. I may be busy, but I’m doing just fine.

I soon realized how wrong I was. While bussing home at 7 p.m. after a particularly busy day, my mind was filled with all the things I had to do that night. I was overwhelmed.

Then I felt the Lord gently prompting me to pray. He was asking me to set aside my list and spend an hour with Him first. He was saying to me what He had said to Martha when she was distracted by and frustrated with her hostess duties while her sister merely sat at the Lord’s feet: “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” (Luke 10: 41).

So when I arrived home, although my “Martha duties” cried out for attention, I went to the Lord. In His arms, the burden of my many commitments didn’t seem so overwhelming. I was restored by His grace and love.

Chronic busyness is not His plan for me or for any of us. There’s a reason that old saying is “busy as a bee”; we, as humans, weren’t designed for that kind of life. He has something much better in store for us: a life of reliance on Him.

He showed me that I don’t need to accomplish more, I need to receive more; I don’t need to succeed more, I need to rely more.

This constant mindset of “get things done” is detrimental to our relationship with God. We often use our busyness as an excuse to shut Him out of our lives. Our other priorities, which are not bad in themselves, take precedence over Him. But He’s crying out for us.

The world tells us that we need to squeeze everything we can out of this life, but Jesus tells us that “only one thing” really matters: a relationship with Him. We need to rely on Jesus and let Him carry us.

In doing this, I have discovered the peace, joy and comfort of living a life in total reliance on God. Now, when I feel the weight of my responsibilities causing me to wither, I remind myself that God is with me and He’s ready to help.

So let’s approach the Lord in prayer and ask Him to help us live, not according to lists and calendars, but according to His Spirit within us.

(Brown, 19, is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University in Ottawa.)

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During elementary school, my smile was a dental nightmare. The question was not whether I needed braces, but when I would get them. The answer to that was Grade 10. And although I was afraid and uncertain about how this would all play out, hindsight has shown me that dental treatment complemented my faith life.

As soon as I received my braces, I was slapped with a list of things that I could and could not eat, and habits I would have to pick up to make sure my teeth were taken care of properly. After appointments with my orthodontist, my teeth and mouth would ache for at least a few hours, sometimes for days. On top of that, I was told that I would have to wear braces — and all the rules and pain that came with them — for at least two years.

As time passed, luckily for me, things became easier to bear, and I began to notice that my dental work shared similarities with my faith. Sometimes people think that being Catholic restrains you because of all the different rules you’re asked to follow. I knew these rules were far from restraining; they were guiding principles that led me towards goodness and God, the greatest good. I realized that, like the commandments, the rules given to me with my braces were there for my benefit, to prevent me from hindering the treatment. Unless I followed them, the braces would leave scars or be ineffective.

I better understood St. Paul when he wrote, “You are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). That’s not to say that we can disobey the commandments, but it means that by grace we can live a faithful life within the boundaries they set. Realizing this changed my prayer life, as I began to pray often for the grace to make certain good actions habitual.

Reflecting on the pain I sometimes felt because of my braces, I understood that suffering in my life ultimately made me a stronger person. Just as my teeth were only straightened after enduring pain, my virtues were tested and strengthened by trials and suffering. I could only trust in God’s wisdom during these times, and this trustful surrender to Divine Providence became a source of great peace for me.

Having braces also taught me that change comes slowly. It may have taken two years, but God definitely made my crooked teeth straight. As St. Francis de Sales said, “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.” Growing in patience, in my prayer life, in my trust in God and in any virtue takes time to accomplish. I won’t be able to make good habits and positive change without a continual effort, but “Patience obtains all things,” said St. Teresa of Avila. “The crooked shall be made straight” (Lk 3:5) if we’re patient enough to let God straighten what needs straightening.

(Pereira, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto.)

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TORONTO - Faith Connections and the Newman Young Adult Ministry are co-hosting “A Date to Remember,” a Catholic speed dating event where single adults can gather and get to know one another.

Speed dating is an activity where participants spend four to five minutes chatting with a person before moving along to the next person. Organizers offer a list of suggested questions to help participants during each session.

Then participants use scorecards placed in envelopes to let organizers know with whom they wish to share their contact information.

Geared towards Catholic singles between the ages of 19 and 39, A Date to Remember draws people who are formerly and currently affiliated with the University of Toronto and the Newman Centre.

“We have young adults asking for an event like this so we try to include that yearly,” said Kelly Bourke, interim program director for Faith Connections, a branch of Fontbonne Ministries.

Both ministries are preparing to hold their third collaborated speed dating event on Oct. 27 at the Newman Centre. The first speed dating night was held last summer.

While there are many socials and mixers hosted by both ministries throughout the year, speed dating provides a special venue for single Catholics.

“It’s an opportunity for singles to help develop new friendships that could develop into something else,” said Gem Ofreneo from the Newman Young Adult Ministry.

Kevin Lo, 27, participated in A Date to Remember after learning about it from a Faith Connections newsletter.

“I was a bit hesitant at first because of its non-traditional approach for finding a potential spouse, but I decided to give it a try,” Lo said. “I thought it would be a good chance to meet some new people and, particularly, fellow young Catholics.”

Space is limited due to the size of the venue and organizers have had to turn people away in the past.

“During the first year it was easy to have women sign on right from the beginning when we advertised,” Bourke said. “(With) the men, there were still spaces in the final week. This year I see men and women signing up (from the start).”

“I had never attended a speed dating event before so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Lo said. “However, the event was well organized. The organizers and volunteers did a great job in making the participants feel welcome and comfortable.”

These events provide a friendly and low-pressure environment for participants.

“Men were saying that it takes the pressure off of asking someone for their phone number,” Ofreneo said.

While exclusive to Catholic singles, the dance that follows is open to all young adults. The dance also works as a fundraiser where proceeds will go to the two ministries to fund other activities such as Newman’s outreach programs.

The organizers aim not only to fulfill young adults’ requests for such events, but also to host them in a way that upholds Catholic values.

“Ultimately we say when it comes to something like speed dating... can we bring something there that allows a really healthy and faith-filled idea of meeting new people without perhaps the agenda of ‘Do they make my list?’ ” said Bourke.

She hopes participants will be “open to the possibilities of friendship (and) romance,” and will “be able to be open to truly meeting new people.”

“It’s core to our faith how we connect to other people as strangers, as friends or otherwise.”

Ofreneo encourages single young adults to attend, “but not with the goal in mind of getting a date right away, but to start new friendships and go from there and see where that goes.”

Lo recommends the event.

“Regardless of whether you find that special someone, there is a chance that you may develop many new friendships,” he said.

Lo advises participants to keep an open mind and to pray before and after the event.

“View all ‘dates’ and potential matches as brothers and sisters in Christ,” Lo said. “Be yourself, have fun and smile.”

(Bernardo, 26, lives in Toronto, Ont.)

Published in Youth Speak News