Parishes need to engage youth

By  Samantha Hermack, Youth Speak News
  • May 1, 2009
{mosimage}SAINT JOHN, N.B. - The diocese of Saint John was the second stop in a series of three youth ministry workshops, led by Neil MacCarthy, head of communications for the archdiocese of Toronto, April 24-26.

On his Saint John stop, at St. Ann’s parish, MacCarthy spoke about youth ministry and how to involve young people in the life of the church. The group was small, but extremely enthusiastic.

“I’m looking for inspiration, ideas and encouragement to go forth with,” said Darlene Isnor, the catechetical co-ordinator for the Saint John region.

Other participants had similar hopes, wishing to gain the tools to “see the youth active and involved in the parish as much as possible.”

“We want a sustainable program as opposed to a quick fix,” said MacCarthy. And to do that, he said, congregations need to embrace the idea that youth ministry is the responsibility of the whole parish community, not just a few individuals.

It can be frustrating at times, as youth ministry is always changing, with the older ones growing out of it and a new group of unreached teenagers coming into the picture. As intimidating as that sounds, MacCarthy reminded the group that the youth leaders “don’t have to do it all alone.” Not only do they have the rest of their parish to help them, they also have a God who loves the youth.

“We don’t have to be the Saviour, because we already have one,” he said. “We can be the spark.”

MacCarthy’s first bit of advice was to not assume youth ministry automatically means a youth group. The first thing to work on is a “youth-friendly parish,” one that involves youth in its regular activities. He spoke about how they don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” as there are many different aspects of parish life that youth can take part in, such as joining the choir, taking collection and being lectors. The key is to form an inclusive and friendly environment.

“Every time a young person enters a parish they should feel welcome,” he said.

MacCarthy also spoke about how to go about forming a “youth group,” and organizing events for youth. A lot of times, people expect way too much from their parish youth groups, and he reminded participants that a weekly program can’t replicate World Youth Day all the time, as that isn’t realistic for the people involved in organizing it.

“Sometimes we feel like we have to plan everything, but it can be the simple things that make a difference,” he said.

Many participants were worried about the current situation of youth ministry, as youth activity is dwindling in their parishes. Many pondered what the future of the Catholic Church will be if it cannot reach the youth.

MacCarthy said that youth have a lot to offer the church now, and not just when they grow up. A strong youth ministry, he said, enhances and strengthens the parish as a whole.

Saint John Bishop Robert Harris, who was present for part of the day, believes youth ministry is important to the church.

“Young people are the new generation and have a responsibility to refresh the world,” Harris said. “We need to find the ways to bring them on board.”

Near the end of the day, participants formed groups to talk about what they had learned and to brainstorm on ways to apply these lessons to their own parishes. Some of the suggestions for youth events were volunteering, writing letters to Canadian troops, pizza parties, retreats and Bible studies.

(Hermack, 17, is a home-schooled Grade 11 student in Grand-Bay Westfield, N.B.)

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