Fossil Free Faith has launched a new program recruiting youth to lead the conversation in their faith communities about divesting in fossil fuel companies.

Published in Faith

TORONTO - Everyone needs spiritual direction at some point in their life, said Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Covenant House is stepping up to give young women and girls caught in the grip of the sex trade a way out.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

MANILA, Philippines - Young people drew inspiration from an encounter with Pope Francis at the University of Santo Tomas.

Published in International

MANILA, Philippines - Father Matthieu Dauchez knows the children he works with are not the only poor people in the Philippines, but that has not stopped him from lobbying loudly and praying constantly that Pope Francis will stop by.

Published in International

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador - Eleven-year-old Jamin Diaz is finding that music and his participation in a symphony orchestra are giving him the chance to steer clear of violence that plagues his country.

Published in International

TORONTO - Hundreds of students lining up for reconciliation, kids playing Frisbee with the Sisters of Life, bishops sitting with teens rocking out to worship-and-praise music and thousands of young people on their knees adoring the Eucharist — scenes from Toronto’s first Steubenville youth conference. 

Published in Canada

While Pope Francis says Mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem there will be peace talks in the Middle East.

TORONTO - Salesian Father Michael Pace need not look far to see vocations in many forms. One of his younger sisters is a consecrated Missionary of Charity in San Francisco, his brother and two older sisters are each married with 20 children between them, and his other younger sister, Antoinette, has discerned a call to the single life and works as her parish’s lay pastoral associate.

Published in Youth Speak News

Camp registration season is here, and as youth and parents decide which camp is best for summer fun, camps are dealing with the challenge of how to offer a rewarding and unique experience.

Published in Youth Speak News

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

Published in Youth Speak News

MARKHAM, ONT. - A new youth study group aims to help young Catholics find answers to their questions about faith.

The Salesian Sisters are inviting Toronto-area youth age 15 to 35 to study the youth catechism from October to July. Sr. Corazon Beboso will be running the program at the Don Bosco Centre in Markham.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church is more for adults, for bishops, for priests,” said Beboso, who calls it “very theological.” In contrast, the YouCat, or youth catechism, targets youth to deepen their faith.

Pope Benedict XVI presented the YouCat as a gift to World Youth Day 2011 pilgrims in Madrid, Spain.

“The YouCat study group is not a training program. It’s not a prayer group,” she said. “It is a young adult-led discussion sharing session wherein they come, they bring their questions, they bring whatever impact the world has on them... (and) they place it at the table for discussion depending on the topic that we have chosen.”

But Beboso promises prayer will be incorporated.

“There’s a bit of fun too because we have to make use of the things that are happening around, and then afterwards we pray, we stop and say what does the catechism say?” she said.

The study group is an offshoot of a discernment program that started last year. Called Duc in Altum (put out into the deep), the title is based on Luke 5:4-11, which refers to going farther to catch fish.

“So for us the fish that we want to catch with these young adults is know yourself, know your relationship with God, know your faith, know the Church and what the Church expects from you,” Beboso said.

After the discernment program, the participants wanted to know what was next.

“I said why don’t we make this study group as a response to the invitation of the Holy Father to make 2012-2013 the Year of Faith.” And so the YouCat study group was developed.

Beboso hopes the program will help participants figure out “how our quest for the truth is wrapped in the language of young people’s experiences today.”

Registration is $30 for the entire program. The price includes a copy of the YouCat and the balance is a participant’s contribution to the program. But those who come with their own print or e-book copies are asked to make a small donation. Currently, salesiansisterscanada.com lists 19 sessions at about two sessions a month, the first of which was held on Oct. 1.

Beboso believes youth are attracted to this type of group not only because they are looking for precise answers to the questions they have about the faith.

“They’re also attracted because there are other young people who are searching like them,” she said. “They don’t have the language... to express the faith. They know mentally because many of them are cradle Catholics... So they want to study together with others.”

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - Bright lights, booming music and large crowds — there is no party quite like Nuit Blanche. For one night each year, the streets of downtown Toronto erupt in celebration of the city’s rich arts culture. This year the city’s Catholic community joined the party.

The Newman Catholic Students Club (NCSC) from the University of Toronto facilitated an all-night adoration at St. Thomas Aquinas Church Sept 29. They called the event Nuit Benoit, which translates to “Blessed Night.”

“Something on your heart? Spend some time with Christ,” read a small whiteboard easel on a quiet corner at St. George Street and Hoskin Avenue, inviting passersby to enter the church from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“This is the Year of Faith, the year of evangelization,” said Christina Alaimo, NCSC president. “We want something that can draw people’s attention. We want them to be seduced by Christ.”

Nuit Benoit is NCSC vice president Natasha Milavec’s brain 

child to counter the events of Nuit Blanche as part of the group’s new initiative.

Milavec recalls hearing the creak of the church’s large wooden doors and watching an adorer step out.

“He looked like he was just filled with the Spirit,” said Milavec. “He said that if he had known that this was here, he would’ve come sooner. I think that is what is most satisfying about this event. People’s faces just looked other worldly when they came out.”

More than 100 people attended the event and adored the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. Many also participated in praise and worship and received the sacrament of Reconciliation.

As Nuit Benoit worked to act as a retreat from the city, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) saw the evening as a platform to display its message to the community. Four exhibits were featured over the night.

John Notten, a teacher at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School, presented an art piece for the third year in a row. This year’s piece, The NeXt Desk, was displayed at the Distillery District as part of Thom Sokolsky’s project, Dada Reboot. It is a 13-foot wheel of 20 classroom desks. “It’s mobile, interactive and interconnected,” said Notten.

The NeXt Desk is a symbol representing a new vision to integrate 21st-century technology more seamlessly into the school system.

“The notion of traditional education has been unchanged since the Industrial Revolution,” said Notten. “But in the 21st century, technology is forcing us to re-examine how we educate our kids today.”

Notten’s students understood the state of change in their own way. They called it “the state of flux.” Each student took a piece of a car and transformed it into something that represented their experiences. These individual pieces were then reformed on Yonge and Gould Street as the Fluxmobile.

“It’s a huge honour for the students. I’m so proud of them,” said Notten. “It took my whole life to get my art featured at Nuit Blanche and these 16- and 17- year-olds already have one.”

A second installation from Mary Ward, supervised by Marissa Largo, was located at Wychwood Theatre. Paralandscape is an art piece where people were instructed to take hold of a white parachute as images from Google Earth are projected onto the cloth. As the images shift, they shook the cloth to skew the landscape for “an interactive globetrotting adventure.”

St. Joseph’s College also had its own art piece called the Magic Window. Students collected 35mm unused slides from across the school board and projected them through the windows of their school. This “stained-glass quilt” displayed 50 years worth of traditional curriculum against the modern frame of the building.

(Din, 21, is a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto.)

Published in Youth Speak News

BKERKE, Lebanon - Pope Benedict XVI urged young Christians in the Middle East not to flee violence and economic insecurity through emigration, but to draw strength from their faith and make peace in their troubled region.

The pope spoke to some 20,000 young people from several Middle Eastern countries gathered outside the residence of the Maronite patriarch in Bkerke in a celebration that included fireworks, spotlights, singing and prayer.

The crowd began to form hours before Pope Benedict arrived in the popemobile a little after 6 p.m. After passing through the metal detector and the gates of Bkerke, visitors were greeted by Scouts who gave them an olive branch to wave to welcome the pope and a knapsack containing water, snacks, an Arabic Bible and the new edition of the youth catechism -- "YouCat," a gift from Pope Benedict.

A giant rosary fashioned from yellow and blue balloons hovered over the crowd, its colors blending in with the cloudless sky and Mediterranean Sea below the hillside.

Pope Benedict asked young Christians, whose population is diminishing across the Middle East, not to abandon their homelands.

"Not even unemployment and uncertainty should lead you to taste the bitter sweetness of emigration, which involves an uprooting and a separation for the sake of an uncertain future," he said. "You are meant to be protagonists of your country's future and to take your place in society and in the church."
Warning against escapism, the pope urged his listeners not to "take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography."

He acknowledged that online social networks are interesting, but said they "can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual." He called money a "tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart."

Offering encouragement, the pope invoked the inspiration of the first Christians, inhabitants of the Middle East who "lived in troubled times and their faith was the source of their courage and their witness."

"Courageously resist everything opposed to life: abortion, violence, rejection of and contempt for others, injustice and war," Pope Benedict said. "In this way you will spread peace all around you."

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, in his welcoming speech, told the pope, "These youths suffer from social, political and economic crises that negatively affect their faith and cause some of them to lose the real meaning of their Christian identity."

Two youths spoke to the pope, basing their remarks on input from young Christians from all over Lebanon.

The Middle East's young Christians, they said, "yearn for peace and dream of a future without wars, a future where we will play an active role, where we work with our brothers, the young people of different religions to build a civilization of love ... homelands where human rights and freedom are respected, where each one's dignity is protected."

"We are looking for a culture of peace," they said, calling for the condemnation of violence. "We want to be living bridges, mediators of dialogue and cooperation."

The crowd cheered when the pope said he did not forget the Syrian people, stressing that he is always praying for them and that he is glad there were some Syrian people at the gathering.

Syria's civil war has left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of refugees since March 2011.

"The pope is saddened by your sufferings and your grief," he said, his first public reference to the Syrian conflict since he arrived in Lebanon. "It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war."

Pope Benedict also offered a word of thanks to the Muslims in attendance, urging them to work with Christians to build up the region.

"Muslims and Christians, Islam and Christianity, can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society," the pope said.

After young people presented the prayer intentions, fireworks erupted from all corners of Bkerke, taking the pope by surprise. Sparklers cascaded from the roof of the outdoor chapel facing the stage, lighting up the sky.

At the conclusion of the gathering, spotlights atop the chapel illuminated the courtyard. The huge inflatable globe that had been placed earlier under the cross was sent airborne, with young people bouncing it like a volleyball.

A light show flashed "take-home" reminders on the walls: "love," "missionaries of peace," "pray."

Published in International

TORONTO - On Aug. 11 campers travelled about three hours from Toronto to St. Mary of Egypt Refuge for the inaugural week of the "Youth Camp ... with a difference."

"We're not so much wanting to entertain kids,” said Mary Marrocco, the refuge’s executive director. “We really want to help them to become strong, solid people by teaching them skills (and) doing that in a community way and having them actually contributing to the building of the place."

That’s literally building. These campers, aged 13 to 18, were to spend seven days evaluating design concepts, learning basic woodworking skills and constructing a physical structure — in this case an outhouse.

They’ll do this while still enjoying the 1.16-square-kms of wooded property in Queensborough in eastern Ontario, working on crafts and participating in prayer (which is optional as the camp is non-restrictive).

According to Marrocco, even money didn’t get in the way of registration for campers.

"Our priority is for the people for whom the fee might be difficult,” she said. “If people phone us and say, 'I'd really like to send my kids there but I really cannot afford to pay the $250,' then we say you're first on our list."

A limit of 15 campers ensures all-inclusiveness as each person will have a designated role during the construction process, said Marrocco.  

"Another difference is that it's not a big camp with a couple hundred kids and staff, it's more of a family atmosphere," she said. "None of the kids are building it by themselves, but they'll all be given a real part to do that will contribute to the real building."

Overseeing the construction is Luc Lafond, a 58-year-old semi-retired automated equipment designer. Lafond’s involvement, as well as the camp itself, came about last fall when he stepped forward to organize a group of volunteers and lead them in building a cabin for the refuge. During the three weeks of construction something changed in Lafond.

“In the past I was always giving my money, doing what I would have called my share,” said Lafond. “I realized that it is never too late to start helping others and it’s not just by putting money in an envelope that is the most efficient.”

With this new sense of satisfaction from community service, and having observed a lack of basic construction skills in young volunteers, Lafond offered to co-ordinate a construction-themed summer camp.

"What I realized was that the kids who were helping us, they didn't know how to hold a hammer or use a screwdriver,” he said. “I said this is mind boggling. When I was a kid I grew up with my dad in his garage and he showed me everything. I never realized how lucky I was to have a father that showed me all that so I thought maybe I could turn around and do the same for those kids who do not have that opportunity.”

Marrocco, and the refuge’s sponsors who were involved in the conversations, liked Lafond's idea so much that soon he found himself volunteering for a second camp. Week two is aimed at the parishioners of St. Silouan the Athonite, mission parish of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. With campers slightly older, most between 16 and 18, and of a specific faith, the projected will reflect their Orthodox faith.

“The second week is mainly directed to the kids at our church,” said Lafond, who was baptized Catholic but attends an Eastern Orthodox church with his wife and daughter. “We’re building the Iconostasia, the wall in an Orthodox Church separating altar and the people.”

Although St. Mary of Egypt Refuge is a Catholic faith-based refuge, the parish’s mission, St. John the Compassionate Mission, has partnered with the site since opening in 2001.

“We are really in a partnership with the refuge. It has to do with the personal relationship that Mary Marrocco had over the years with the mission,” said Deacon Pawel Mucha. “The relationship between us and the refuge is so good. I would say the distinctions (between religions) are pretty blurred.”

He repeatedly said what is more important is the “common ideal of service” shared between the mission and refuge.

The second camp begins on Aug. 17.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA