Having participated in my church’s youth group in junior high and high school I was interested in ‘giving back’ the time and vocation to young people. Starting as a peer counselor in college, I also served as a summer camp counselor (and bus driver) for the local YMCA, a mentor to freshman and continued involvement with youth groups at my church.
Continued from above…
In 2003, after 16 years in Human Resource Management, I became the Director of Religious Education for my parish and returned to my original calling: providing religious formation to our young people. I have been especially blessed to have the opportunity to continue this mission by facilitating retreats for the Passionists.
What have you learned in working with young people?
Young people are mostly the same: searching for meaning in their life while looking to us for instruction and guidance in their faith. It is difficult being a teenager these days due to the constant pressures being placed upon them. They have demands to perform in their schools, at their jobs, in their families and in their parishes. Add to these pressures the continual presence of the internet, cell phones, text messaging, blogging, etc. and we begin to see where angst and anger arise. I see my role, as facilitator, as someone who will temporarily take them away from these outside pressures and provide an opportunity for reflection and discernment.
What are some of the spiritual challenges that you feel young people face today?
Spiritually, I believe that our young people face a challenge of identity: What is a Christian? What is a Catholic? Am I a good Christian/Catholic? Add to this quest for identity the relationships with friends and family who may not have a religion and you have a recipe for potential breakdown in spirituality. It is difficult for young persons, at times, to reconcile their faith with their environment but they need to remember that the true solution is in their deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
How can the adult faith community support young people?
The adult faith community can best support our young people through their personal testimony and lives. If we live as we profess there can be no better reason why our young people cannot become strong in their faith. Another area where we can offer support is to gain an understanding of the technology that is influencing the lives of our young. Without knowing what is holding their attention we cannot develop programs or relationships to build their faith. It is no longer acceptable to present a message via overhead projector or slides when our young are designing web pages, operating blogs and utilizing text messaging as a primary means of communication. We need to develop means to effective communicate the good news through channels that our young are utilizing.
What can the wider Church learn from young people?
Our young people provide us with hope for the future, but not a bright future if we cannot bring the message of Jesus Christ to them. The ability to communicate with the young is a challenge which we must undertake through means that may be unfamiliar to us: blogs, texting, chat rooms, etc. The young present us with a unique opportunity to learn how effective communication can be without physically being present to them. This distance is not a hindrance, nor should it be ignored, but is to be embraced as a new means of evangelization. If Jesus was here today I do not think he would have ignored the internet, text messaging or podcasts as effective tools to present his message. I do not think we should ignore their message to us either. And if through these technologies our Church continues its mission so much the better.
What are the challenges and joys in working with young people?
Challenges today include age differences between youth and youth ministers, technologically-challenged adults and programs, racial and ethnic differences, lack of time, self-esteem issues of youth, identity crises and attitude toward religion. Many of our youth feel that they are being ‘forced’ to attend church functions rather than be allowed to spend time with their friends. It is sometimes a challenge to get young people to understand that life is not always about PSPs, MP3 players or cell phones but about their call from God and how they are to best serve the Lord. The joys of this ministry come about in the realization that the young people do understand the message and they appreciate that we take the time with them.