Students learn to strive for sainthood

By 
  • November 27, 2009
{mosimage}OAKVILLE, Ont. - The importance of going to Mass and God’s plan for their sainthood became clear to Grade 8 students from the Halton Region through dynamic presentations to boost their faith.

The Halton Catholic District School Board’s 2,100 Grade 8 students were welcomed to Mary Mother of God parish in Oakville for the board’s first youth leadership rally Nov. 17-19.

“I go to church every Sunday but it gave me a renewed sense of what I was there for,” said Myra Kohler, 13, a student from St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Georgetown, Ont. “It was a lot of fun and the speaker, Chris Stefanick, played off our feelings — he really knew what we were feeling and what kind of person we wanted to be.”

Stefanick is a dynamic international speaker currently working as the director of youth, young adult and campus ministry for the archdiocese of Denver. Stefanick toured Halton high schools earlier in the week speaking about chastity. He used powerpoint with images to bring across his messages at the rally.

As he flipped to images of young heroes of the church, like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti, he called the students to think about what sainthood really implies.

“God doesn’t just want you to be a saint,” Stefanick said. “He needs you to be a saint because this world needs hope.”

For Travis Greene, the rally was a bit of a turning point.

“It really makes me want to go to church more,” he said, adding that it made him realize Mass isn’t about being entertained but going to meet God.

Stefanick’s presentations alternated with performances by Toronto musician Matt York. York is a former parishioner of Mary Mother of God and was invited to perform his own tunes at Saturday youth rallies the parish has hosted for the past couple of years. This time, he was asked by organizers to record a CD of popular praise and worship songs that were distributed in the schools’ Grade 8 rally preparation kits.

“I sat down and asked ‘how can I make this so the kids, regardless of the music they listen to, would be able to relate to at least one of the songs?’ ” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed helping them get involved and get excited and it’s pretty cool the fact that I can come back and give the kids something they’ll be excited about. I know when I was growing up it would have been awesome to have that reinforcement that normal people who do normal things, like play in a band, but also go to Mass and practise their faith.”

Mary Tessari, superintendent of staff development and faith formation with the Halton board, said the rally did more than expected, deepening the faith of not only students, but trustees, teachers and  parents. She approached Mary Mother of God parish last year after attending one of its Saturday rallies to see if the board could collaborate.

“We had only one or two schools attending the Saturday rally and there were other schools from outside of Halton so I felt it was unfortunate that our own schools weren’t able to participate in this amazing youth rally,” Tessari said. “So I talked to Colleen (Gamble, pastoral assistant at Mary Mother of God) about offering it on school days and that’s exactly what we’ve done and it’s a tremendous success.”

She said the rally was a great step forward in the 2009-2012 initiative to bolster faith in students, which began with strengthening the curriculum with more obvious teachings of Gospel values and social justice.

Gamble helped kick-start the Saturday youth rally after seeing other rallies and conferences like the one held annually in Steubenville, Ohio.

“With our rally, we wanted to get them to understand the foundation of their faith and to focus on Catholic leadership,” Gamble said.

Working with the schools this year enabled the students to come to the rally more prepared. Gamble said it was important not to confuse the rally with a confirmation retreat — it was really an opportunity to strengthen students in their faith before they move on to high school.

“We asked them to focus on the patron saint of their school and explore the Apostles Creed and what it means because we can’t proclaim our faith if we don’t know what it is,” Gamble said.

Jaymie Jurasek, 16, said she didn’t remember being offered anything this impacting during her elementary school years. It wasn’t until she entered Thomas Aquinas High School in Oakville that she realized her faith was the most important thing to her and was now glad to help be a witness to the younger peers.

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