Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Youth ministry and vocations
Ministers help young people reflect on where God is leading them
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Through a variety of relevant youth programs, youth ministry in the Edmonton Archdiocese is helping young people reflect on their baptismal commitment and on different Christian vocations.
In fact youth ministry and young adult ministry can be credited with creating a culture more open to vocations, said Andrew Papenbrock, the archdiocese's director of youth and young adult ministry. He says the increasing numbers of seminarians in the archdiocese is directly related to youth ministry.
"Young people are more comfortable talking about vocations and more open to vocations because there is a better understanding of what our baptismal call toward a vocation means," Papenbrock said.
"Also again we have some visible signs for the young people that they can relate to so they are making contact with people that are living that vocation. And we have the good role models that young people can look up to. We can see there is an increase in the seminary; there is even an increase in people interested in religious life."
The role of youth ministry is to offer young people opportunities to identify, develop and share their gifts, Papenbrock explained.
"So the different youth ministries offer a variety of programs, a variety of ways to help young people express their spirituality so each one has a possibility of having that encounter with Christ in their lives."
Opportunities being offered throughout the archdiocese include events like World Youth Day, youth rallies, concerts, drama productions, retreats and opportunities to get involved in social justice issues.
Obviously not everybody responds in the same way. While some young people become interested in becoming priests and nuns, others become more involved in different ministries in their parishes or in the Christian community as a whole. "And by doing so they (all) end up growing in their faith," Papenbrock said.
Mike Landry, the head of youth ministry at St. Albert's Holy Family Parish, said helping young people reflect on their vocation in life is essential.
"We help foster vocations to the priesthood, vocations to marriage and vocations to religious life, whichever one it is that is theirs. I think the role of the youth minister essentially is to lead teens to Christ, to help them reflect on what their call is and what God has in store for them. You can't do youth ministry and not do vocations."
"In whatever we do we always have some mention of vocations," Landry said. "I also have an ongoing discussion with different young people who are wrestling with the question right now. We try to encourage them. If we go on retreats we always ask them to reflect on what God is calling them to be."
A couple of years ago Holy Family hosted the vocations program Called by Name to encourage vocations to the priesthood. The parish also devotes at least a couple of nights a year exclusively to vocations. And the priest who celebrates the Sunday evening youth Mass never misses an opportunity to talk about different vocations.
"To keep them thinking about it is our big thing," Landry said. "We are very blessed because we are so close to the seminary and seminarians are around all the time."
Landry thinks youth ministry in the archdiocese has a lot to do with the increasing number of vocations in the Edmonton Archdiocese. "I think that one of the fruits of youth ministry is you get more people thinking about God's call in their lives."
Landry himself is a product of youth ministry. He joined a St. Albert Parish youth group 10 years ago and got hooked. "That's what really got me involved back in the Church and thinking about my faith and what role Christ plays in my life," he said. "And I got into youth ministry because I wanted to give that back and give that opportunity to other young people."
Sister Gertrude Sopracolle, director of discernment for the Ursulines of Prelate congregation in St. Albert, praised youth ministry in the archdiocese for helping to create a culture of vocation. "There is a healthier climate," she said. "Youth ministry has helped put many young people in touch with Christ and the sacraments."
Sopracolle singled out the Life Teen program at Holy Family Parish in St. Albert as something that has fostered a mindset in youth that being in church is cool. When the program began a couple of years ago, young people could be seen bored at Mass, rolling their eyes with impatience. "Now they are happy to be there. They are involved in the Mass, they sing."
Father Mark Blom, director of the Oblate Youth Ministry, notes nobody is going to reflect on his or her faith without being stimulated. So his ministry provides stimulation of faith in the Catholic school system through contemporary music, drama and catechesis.
"The heart of our work consists of a retreat that the students experience at the local parish," he noted. "What we are doing is creating an experience that validates the teenager where they are using their (type) of music so they feel validated.
"Then we also make use of high school students to work with us. So, for example, when we go to a junior high school, we will go to the nearest Catholic high school and collect a team of (high school students) to assist us in doing the retreats. This way, younger students see older students doing something relevant with regard to their faith. That's what we call peer ministry."
Blom said his ministry works with young people because youth ministry is part of the general mission of the Church to evangelize and initiate people into the Christian life.
"That's why we do it. There are side effects to it and the side effects would be that hopefully some of these young people would discover in these experiences their own personal calling to ministry or to marriage or any vocation that God is calling them to," the priest said.
"We are not doing it for vocations. We are doing it simply because it's the Christian calling to evangelize and initiate people into the Christian experience and lifestyle."
God loves you
Blom said the thrust in the Oblates work is the basic Gospel message that "God loves you and you are gifted."
"We don't claim that what we do is going to produce vocations but we are part of the ecology of vocations, a vocational culture because we are preaching that ultimately your freedom is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and it's expressed in the Christian community, the Church."
Papenbrock said World Youth Day has been paramount in helping young people reflect on their baptismal call and their vocations as Christians.
"Many young people who went to WYD heard the call from the pope that we have to be salt and light to the world and are now involved in different ministries or reflecting on their vocations."
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