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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.

Sacred Heart of Jesus in Troy hosts event fostering fellowship

“The Holy Spirit inspires those with open and docile hearts to respond to a need,” says Phil Lawson, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Diocese of Burlington. “And how beautiful it is, when those individuals say ‘yes!’”

That beauty was manifested in Troy for the second consecutive year as a group of laypersons spearheaded a Family Retreat Day at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church.

“The best evangelization is always ‘person-to-person.’ As a popular saying goes, ‘disciples make disciples,’” Lawson said.

Disciples certainly are making disciples in this Canadian border community — and beyond. More than 200 people attended from as far away as Colorado, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“This is a home-grown example of the role the laity can take in putting faith into action,” said Daniel McAvinney, one of the event organizers. “We sustain ourselves in faith… This whole day was a comprehensive encouragement of the faithful.”

Angie Chaput of St. Vincent de Paul Church in North Troy attended the family retreat and found it to be a work of evangelization “exactly as God would want.”

The day was “powerful,” she said.

“Because of the scarcity of priests, it’s important for us [lay persons] to spread the Gospel,” said attendee Margaret Huempfner of Aurora, Colo. “We need to start reaching out in a sacrificial way.”

Sacred Heart of Jesus parishioner and family retreat coordinator Theresa McAvinney said it is necessary “to think outside the box in order to fill the spiritual needs” of communities. “Because our pool of volunteers is shrinking, as are the congregations, some of us have begun to pool our personnel resources,” she said. 

For instance, with the Encountering Jesus Youth Formation program, there are no parish boundaries; any youth from any parish can join. “Bringing spiritual offerings to the people instead of having our people go far and wide [to find them] has also begun to enliven the faith of our parishioners,” she said.

The daylong family retreat — for persons of all ages, for families, for couples and for individuals — included Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, eucharistic adoration, music, games and crafts for children, music and fellowship.

Father Jon Schnobrich, director of vocations for the Diocese of Burlington, attended the retreat. “It speaks to the hunger, the longing…for the truth and joy of our faith,” he said. 


‘There is a hunger for God and the need for Catholic Christians to build a community of love within their families, their neighborhoods and their own local parishes.’ 

— Theresa McAvinney



For Mrs. McAvinney, the primary reason for the retreat was the salvation of souls. “There is a hunger for God and the need for Catholic Christians to build a community of love within their families, their neighborhoods and their own local parishes,” she said. 

People lead busy lives, but they can find a way to dedicate one full day to God and family to attend the retreat, she added: “The palpable experience of the presence of God at our retreat last year left a yearning for more in the hearts of many who attended and the request that we do it again.”

Michael Rocco of Amherst, N.H., called the family retreat “spiritually reviving.”

The need for Catholic Christian community never ends. “Those who are seeking true spiritual nourishment look forward to the opportunity to gather with fellow Catholics to celebrate our faith. God is attractive,” Mrs. McAvinney said.

Many of this year’s retreatants were new; some came because of the recommendation of last year’s participants, and others came because what was offered was appealing to them. 

Mrs. McAvinney made an effort to invite people personally, especially those she knew might have been struggling and needed to experience the love of God through the Christian community. 

“Like St. Pope John Paul II, calling for a ‘New Evangelization’ and both Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis building on that call, the Church helps shepherd her children to meet the needs of the modern world,” Lawson said. “How beautiful it is when the Church issues the clarion call for a New Evangelization amidst the joy of the Gospel, and men and women rise up to answer the challenge. This is what the saints did throughout history. And this is our opportunity to play the part the Lord has ordained for us today. What a privilege and what a responsibility!”

The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis exists to help form what Pope Francis has called “missionary disciples” able to spread the joy of the Gospel in their communities. “In this case, we are proud to support and encourage the amazing work being done by those in Troy,” Lawson said. 

 The New Evangelization is rooted in using new “means, methods and ardor” to bring the Gospel of Christ to the modern world, he continued. “There is tremendous room and opportunity for creativity here. It begins by the faithful asking the question, ‘What are the needs in our community?’ and ‘Where is the Lord leading us?’ The means and methods will vary according to the place and the local circumstances, the ardor with which it is accomplished as well as the end goal, bringing the joy of the Gospel to our communities, are universal.”   

He is confident the Lord will lead the faithful to what they need to do, and he looks forward to partnering with the parishes in those efforts.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus community has embraced this evangelical mission. “Is it a lot of work, you bet,” Mrs. McAvinney said. “But ‘it is in giving that we receive.’”

She said if the Holy Spirit inspires people to evangelize, “we need only say ‘yes,’ and He sends all that we need; it is accomplished because those of us who are working together are faithful to Christian stewardship of time, talent and treasure.”

Father Schnobrich said that as the Church continues to promote the building of Christ-centered community, people experience the beauty of the Catholic faith through educational/evangelizing events like the family retreat. 

“We have the greatest gift in the universe — salvation through Jesus Christ. We have the fullness of truth in our Catholic Church,” Mrs. McAvinney said. “We have the answers for a broken world in the Holy Eucharist. We have everything we need to bring others to this Light. We must, as lay faithful, embrace the evangelical mission of the Church to bring Christ to others that they might be saved.”

For more information, contact the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis at 802-658-6110 ext. 1453.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer. 
  • Published in Parish

“His Mercy Endures Forever” at Troy Family Day Retreat

More than 200 people gathered at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Troy June 25 for the second annual Family Day Retreat organized by local parishioners. The theme, in keeping with the current Holy Year of Mercy, was “His Mercy Endures Forever.”

  • Published in Parish
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