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Youth Ministry: 'Encountering Jesus'

By Theresa McAvinney
In the movie, “Field of Dreams,” the Iowa farmer, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is inspired by a voice he cannot ignore to pursue a dream he can hardly believe; “If you build it, he will come.” For those who have seen the movie, they know that Ray had the full support of his wife, and despite hardships, misunderstandings and ridicule from some, his faithfulness to that voice led to the fulfillment of his dream and along the way transformed the lives of many.
Encountering Jesus has been my Field of Dreams story. In 2013 I was asked by several parents to prepare their teens for confirmation. At the time, I didn’t even know how many teens were involved. Together, with parents and youth, we created a program to get us through that first year, and it was approved by our pastor. We met twice monthly on a Sunday evening and had Mass together once monthly.
The following year, we switched to a video-based confirmation program, meeting twice monthly on Sundays, adding Adoration with confession prior to Mass once monthly. It was a little bit better in some ways, and the conversations were wonderful, but within my heart, I realized that twice per month was not enough for the teens to learn to love their faith. My maternal instincts were telling me we had to do something different. “If you build it, they will come!”
They say three is a charm. In our third year, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Encountering Jesus was born. Starting with clear goals and a mission statement, we strived to keep this saving work on track. Our mission statement is “Our Youth, on fire for Jesus, will be agents of change within their families, their schools and workplaces and especially in their parish churches, bearing the love of Christ and His message of salvation to all they meet.”
We began to meet weekly, switching to Wednesday evenings and began a Teen Holy Hour every third Friday followed by a fun gathering in the parish hall. Gatherings at our house comprised catechesis, dessert and/or a light meal and fun time. My husband, Dan, Father Timothy Naples (our pastor) and alternate adults are present when we gather. The home-like atmosphere lent itself to the feeling that we were a family, with Jesus as the center. Students were beginning to have a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus, which is surely the goal of all our catechetical efforts.
This past year, we switched to “Chosen~ Your Journey Toward Confirmation,” a program our teens are fully engaged in. We had to add half an hour to our gatherings because the kids felt it was not enough time to be together. They frequently bring a friend with them and are truly happy to be Catholic. Another blessing is that those who were confirmed last year continue to come to our gatherings, a sign they did not consider confirmation as “graduation” from learning more about their Catholic faith.
Working together, the teens have been involved in charitable projects such as adopting needy families and purchasing gifts for them during the Christmas season. They led the Stations of the Cross during Lent for the last two years and presented the Living Stations of the Cross with original meditations written by one of our own teens, Olivia LeBlanc. Olivia also has taken over as music director for St. Ignatius Church in Lowell.
Several of our teens are catechist assistants with our Family Formation program, particularly Allura Reynard who must portray a different saint each month for the preschoolers in addition to assisting in the classroom.
Encountering Jesus Teens helped to host the Koinonia Choir last year at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Troy, helping the Ladies of Sacred Heart with set up and clean up and putting together 80 goodie bags for our New Jersey guests.
The teens have played an active role in helping with our annual Family Day Retreat. Last year, in addition to helping set up and clean up, they sang songs from “Sister Act,” putting together a little skit to go along with them, and the song “You Raise Me Up.” This year our retreat theme is “Mary, Our Mother,” and the teens will be performing. One of our teens asked to write original Marian lyrics to the tune of “Halleluiah.”
The beauty of working with these young ones is that God has given them many gifts and talents, and they are proving to step up and use them, joyfully, for the glory of God.

Vermont Catholic Youth Serve

The newest version of the Diocese of Burlington’s summer youth weekend was a faith building and service opportunity focused on Christian mercy.

The Vermont Catholic Youth Serve took take place at the University of Vermont in Burlington and the surrounding area , June 24-26. 

Sponsored by the  Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, VCYS is the successor of the Vermont Catholic Youth Conference. “We decided after much thought, prayer and deliberation that it was important to not just talk about our faith and talk about mercy but to give the youth an opportunity to live the faith,” explained William Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry.

The purpose of the weekend was to show Christ’s love and mercy to the people of Vermont.

Steubenville East High School Youth Conference

On July 15-17,  138 teens and adults from the Diocese of Burlington participated in the Steubenville East High School Youth Conference in Lowell, Mass. They joined 3,200 other teens and adults from throughout New England and the Northeast for an amazing weekend of fellowship, fun, prayer, inspiration and music. Teens from Vermont travelled together on three buses representing towns throughout the Green Mountain State – Burlington, St. Albans, Enosburg Falls, Richford, Newport, Berkshire, Hardwick, Williston, Rutland, Poultney, Stowe, Barton, Manchester, West Pawlett, Bennington and other towns.  They were joined by chaperones, seven seminarians and four Burlington Diocesan priests – Fr. Schnobrich, Fr. Gratton and two newly ordained priests, Fr. Matthew Rensch and Fr. Curtis Miller.  

“The highlight of the weekend can be summed up in one word – encounter.  Teens encountered Christ through the sacraments, encountered others in the spirit of Christian community and encountered their deepest core and the essence of who they are as human beings – namely, children of God.  Our teens were inspired, moved and motivated by amazing talks, inspiring music, but most of all, by Christ himself,” said William Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington.

Steubenville conferences take place throughout the United States and will be attended this summer by over 50,000 teens in Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Wisconsin, Tucson, Denver and numerous other cities.    

The Diocese of Burlington will be attending the Steubenville East conference next July, 2017.   We invite all teens in Vermont to join us and to be changed forever.    
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