Students explore faith through prayer, dialogue

By  Greg Van Dyk, Youth Speak News
  • October 22, 2010
WCFVICTORIA -Natalia Zapotoczny doesn’t think Catholic youth know as much about the Church as they should.

The first-year sciences student at the University of Victoria is doing something to change that. She is the founder of Warriors for Christ — a group of young people who gather to pray and become more exposed to Catholicism through conversation and questioning.

It also strives to help its members get prayer out of the on/off switch phase and turn that into a prayer life.

“People were confused as to what it was,” Zapotoczny said of Warriors for Christ. “It’s not a youth group. We’re not going out to preach or convert. It’s really just for our own spiritual growth.”

The group was created after Zapotoczny and students from St. Andrew’s Regional High School in Victoria returned from a pilgrimage to Rome last March. After visiting holy places, seeing relics and being exposed to the heart of Catholicism, students felt the need to keep the spiritual energy going.

Although the group was created while Zapotoczny was in Grade 12, it’s not just for high school students, she said. Many members have since graduated from St. Andrew’s, so the group plans to continue meeting throughout members’ university years.

“They felt like they’d been to the mountaintop and now they’re back here in Victoria and struggling,” said Stuart Andrie, a religion teacher at St. Andrew’s who organized the Vatican trip and assisted in the creation of WFC. “The students wanted a support network for themselves where they felt like they could gather together in a safe environment and share their experience with the faith.”

Andrie attends meetings to answer questions and support Zapotoczny with ideas and resources.

Warriors for Christ has about 30 members, with about half that number attending each meeting. The group meets every two to three weeks in a different member’s home, focusing on different prayers each session. Emphasis is placed on the rosary as well as other traditional methods of Catholic prayer that might not be said as often, such as the Divine Mercy Chaplet or Liturgy of the Hours.  

“They know they can go out and turn to that when they need a spark or something to get them going… another tool in their toolbox to help them through days when prayer doesn’t come easy,” said Andrie.

Each prayer session lasts for just under an hour and exposes members to new forms of Catholic prayer that some people would never have known existed, such as lectio divina.

After prayer, the focus shifts into group discussion. Topics aren’t always planned and range from the Church’s teaching on demons and spirits to modern issues like abortion and same-sex marriage as they relate to Catholic doctrine.

Connor Brown, now a first-year sciences student at the University of Victoria, is one of the group’s founding members.

“What keeps me going back are the topics that are brought up at meetings, because there aren’t many chances to explore them in a setting quite like this,” said Brown.

“There’s a sincere amount of learning that goes on, because we talk about some big issues. It’s different than in a classroom,” said Andrie. “It’s a protected environment where people feel free to voice opinions or doubts or challenges.”

Brown can vouch for this.

“WFC has really helped me to grow in my faith by being a place where discussions can be made in a totally relaxed environment with friends from all different stages in life and faith,” said Brown.

Andrie believes how the group came about is significant.  

“It wasn’t something that was already in existence. It was something that came about through the discerning of what the students’ needs were in terms of their spirituality and to meet that directly.”

“You don’t just pray because you need something,” said Zapotoczny. “You pray because He’s amazing.”

(Van Dyk, 19, is a second-year humanities student at the University of Victoria.)

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