Scarborough youth diamonds in the rough

By  Dominique Bennett, Youth Speak News
  • March 1, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - It’s an upbeat part of the city with proud residents, but Scarborough’s lingering reputation as a bad place makes it a little too easy to overlook the booming number of active Catholic youth in the eastern part of Toronto.

While the local news stations are busy placing emphasis on the negativity that Scarborough’s past connotes, the priests and youth ministers there are hard at work, influencing the minds of the young people and transforming Scarborough youth groups into among the most active and flourishing ones in Toronto.

Gerard Calderon, an assistant program co-ordinator at the Office of Catholic Youth (OCY) , reminisced with Youth Speak News over his experiences at St. Thomas More parish’s youth ministry, where he is now the acting youth minister.

“It was during World Youth Day 2002 when I realized that things were actually taking place for youth in the community,” he said. “I noticed that there’s a greater focus on youth being the church of today versus the church of tomorrow.”

Numerous local youth ministries started to not only appear but grab the attention of many youth in Scarborough after WYD 2002, he added.

Scarborough’s youth groups are important because they appear as a beacon of hope in a part of the city that many have seemed to given up on.

“I feel that there’s still a reputation for Scarborough being ‘rough-around-the-edges’ and that people cannot succeed if they are coming from tough neighbourhoods, particularly in Scarborough,” said Dean Peñafil, an assistant program co-ordinator for the OCY.

More recently, the populations in these special ministries around the city have grown, which might be due to the requirement for high school students to complete community service hours, although there are other factors.

“I think you have to look at the demographics of Scarborough. There are a lot of immigrants who reside in Scarborough,” Peñafil said. “Many of these people are from Catholic parts of the world. As such they bring their rich culture and religious piety with them.”

Finding a priest who is outwardly proud and boastful about his parish’s youth ministry is not difficult on this side of town. Fr. Edwin Gonsalves, pastor at St. Barnabas parish, said youth can be described as “energetic, faithful, adventurous, prayerful and ready to help and serve.” He takes pride in describing the variety of ministries that the youth are involved in at his church.

“It’s not just youth group, they are involved in many things from choir and altar serving, to holding meetings every Monday,” he said.

These Scarborough youth are not limited to holding fellowship on Mondays, but rather hold a strong active presence in the church throughout the whole week.

Gonsalves said that “Scarborough churches are close together. You have a lot of parishes close by, with a lot of young families,” which to him is a large factor contributing to the array of youth ministries available.

Gonsalves encourages the youth to participate in the Sunday Eucharist, the most important aspect of their church life. Other than that, Gonsalves says that they simply play good music and discuss topics of interest at Monday youth groups, including self image, communication and moral issues, which in turn attract the youth.

At St. Thomas More, Gerard Calderon said his responsibility as youth minister is to create a “more than eager” attitude in the city’s adolescents.

“I don’t like to use set programs,” he said. “We specially cater to the people in our group. Whether it be through liturgical events or retreats, every event is combined with fellowship.”

He holds various events such as high school retreats, youth formals, dinners and more unique faith-based events.

Calderon said he believes that these inspired youth are a result of great, dedicated priests in Scarborough who truly focus on their youth.

When asked what he believes the future for their ministry looks like, Calderon said, “We don’t know what God has in store. (The youth) have their own interests; school, sports. Yet to see them wanting to come to church surprised me at first.”

The great variety of cultures in the city adds energy to every youth group as they cater to the different needs of their youth members.

(Bennett, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Senator O’Connor College School in Toronto.)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.