Small town faith thrives among youth

By  Jenna Murphy, Youth Speak News
  • December 18, 2006

YARMOUTH, N.S. - The St. Ambrose Cathedral parish youth group of Yarmouth is known to travel three hours by caravan for youth events in Halifax. Each member often spends his or her own money to get there. This tight-knit group rises to the challenge of keeping the faith in a small community where young people typically flee after high school.

The youth group relies heavily on each other for Christian fellowship, members having known each other for most of their lives.

"Involvement in the church as a young person is a very important part of my life. It defines who I am, and it gives me strength," said Ben Drew, 17, who has been active in youth ministry since he was in Grade 5.

With a population of roughly 10,000, Yarmouth is located at the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia surrounded by the ocean. The diocese of Yarmouth has 37 small community parishes, almost half of which are French. The diocese formed 53 years ago when Acadian Catholics did not feel their linguistic and cultural needs were being met under the archdiocese of Halifax.

Because of the heavy French population, Bishop Claude Champagne of Quebec has been appointed as an auxiliary bishop. Yet, parishioners ultimately look to Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Halifax as their apostolic administrator. Champagne takes on a delegate role for the diocese, serving both French and English parishioners.

The unique circumstances regarding leadership presents a challenge in maintaining direction among parishioners, especially in enticing Yarmouth youth to go to Mass, let alone become involved in youth ministry outside Mass.

The St. Ambrose Cathedral parish youth group, however, is the exception. Each week the group maintains a busy schedule. Aside from a weekly youth Mass on Sunday evenings, there are two youth groups a week for different ages. Children of the Light is a group of younger children, usually bringing in 10 to 15 youth per week. The junior high school and up group Warriors of the Light expands from 15 to 20 members to 30 when university students are home.

Warriors of the Light youth minister Derrick Babin believes Yarmouth's size generally works in the favour of the youth groups.

"Here in Yarmouth, you don't get lost in the crowd. The bonds between the young people here run deep; their faith and love for Christ definitely transcends their age and status in life," said Babin.

Babin said volunteers keep youth ministry in Yarmouth afloat. Otherwise it's easy to become disappointed with the exodus of young people from the area.

Every summer under Babin's supervision, the parish youth alumni return to host a week-long Catholic summer camp in the woods of Yarmouth County. Entering its 10th year, this camp gathers 12- to 15-year-olds from all over the province for a week of music, daily Mass, canoeing and inspiring talks from guest speaker Daniel DiSilva, lead singer of Crispin, a Texas-based Catholic band, who attends every summer.

Aside from camp, other young people have initiated ministries for the elderly in nursing homes, led music during adoration or even assumed teaching roles at Sunday school.

Several young people joined a National Evangelization Team (NET) or entered communities for discernment. Sean Libby, a 22-year-old Yarmouth native, currently lives in the Brother André discernment house in Halifax. Libby said although his faith fully came alive in the past two years, the seeds were planted in Yarmouth at a young age by attending retreats, the youth group's annual Way of the Cross still-life drama and World Youth Day pilgrimages. Libby credits Babin for helping to shape his faith.

"Derrick lays out the truth in a non-judgmental way. I strayed from my faith for a few years, and Derrick was there to listen to me when I returned. We need more people like Derrick; people who will plant the seeds and wait patiently for the fruits with unconditional love," said Libby.

"With these young people you quickly learn to get out of the way and let Christ, who manifests so richly in the lives of the youth, work," said Babin. "I have nothing extraordinary to offer. The youth embody all that the church needs. We need only extend the invitation their way."

(Murphy, 22, is a recent graduated of Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., and currently is a care worker for people with special needs.)

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