Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 24, 2010
Net team sparks youth revival
Wetaskiwin parish puts its money into travelling evangelists and sees the faith of youth blossom
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
WETASKIWIN - The community of Wetaskiwin does not have a Catholic high school, and youth involvement at Sacred Heart Parish was in steady decline. The few teens who attended Mass showed disinterest, and approached their faith with apathy. Therefore, parishioners wanted to revive their evangelization to young people.
By bringing in National Evangelization Teams (NET), Wetaskiwin has witnessed positive changes in its youth community over the past seven months. The six-member youth-based ministry team arrived Oct. 8 and departed May 17.
"This year has been an absolute blessing, and a great opportunity to evangelize to youth who truly do need it," said Marc Puigmarti, a NET team leader from Etobicoke, Ont. "It's been just amazing to see how God provides for us in terms of volunteers.
"Within youth ministry, there are a lot of needs in terms of help from the parish. Every time we needed something, God would answer our prayers and provide it."
Answered prayers came in the way of money, supplies, volunteers and greater youth involvement.
Having the Netters in the community was a method of reintroducing faith to youth who had otherwise lost their connection with the Church. They empowered the youth to understand Church through the perspective of other young people.
LEARNING ABOUT FAITH
"The youth need a place to learn about their faith and a place to practise prayer. One of the most important things that we can offer teens is a chance to connect with God. Each youth group night, there's always at least 10 minutes of prayer in the church.
"That's the most important part because connecting with God is what it's all about. He's our lifeline and he's everything we need," said Puigmarti.
After earlier NET teams staged successful three or four-day retreats in Wetaskiwin in the winter of 2007 and spring of 2008, parishioners decided they wanted the Netters back for a longer haul. They went to work and raised $55,000 to pay for the seven-month visit.
Among the highlights of the NET outreach were the weekly LifeTeen Masses, Confirmation retreats and active evangelization at the town's K-9 school, Sacred Heart. The Edge, specifically for junior high students, attracted as many as 70 youth per night. Another highlight for Puigmarti was initiating a group called Real Men.
YOUNG MEN OF GOD
"Real Men was for teenaged guys in Grades 9 to 12. They learned more about what it means to be a true man of God, and they learned about their dignity as men in our culture, and to protect our sisters and uphold their dignity as women.
"We learned more about the beauty of sex and God's plan, and our role as men in society," said Puigmarti.
Until he started going to the youth group, Miles Bishop, 18, did not want to be involved with the Church. The Grade 12 student was asked to join the group and he immediately said yes.
"It just seemed like the right thing to do, so I started coming out and helping with the Edge nights," said Bishop.
"It was really good. It was more interesting and fun, and now I know there's more to it than the more serious stuff. My friends who don't normally do this (Catholic youth ministry) stuff started coming out too. It was really good to see them come out."
With the NET team gone, the youth of Wetaskiwin will have to carry on without their young leaders. Bishop is optimistic the group will remain active.
"It will continue to be successful, I think," he said.
Anna Chrunik has been involved with the youth group since her mother, Maria Chrunik, started it years ago. She would not change anything about the group and will continue coming out because it's impacted her life for the better.
It's amazing to have people her own age support her with her faith, and this was enhanced through the presence of the NET team, she said.
"They (the Netters) really brought the community together. I didn't even know half of the people who are here now. They have changed so many hearts. Since coming here, so many people have changed their lives," said Chrunik.
Meshing faith with fun was a blessing of having the NET team around.
"Everything was fun. It was so nice to have them at the church. I'd come to church and they'd be here and be very welcoming. As far as highlights, I really liked how almost every LifeTeen night, we'd go and spend time with the Blessed Eucharist," she said.
Not only are the community's youth benefiting from NET's evangelization, but also the members themselves have reaped rewards.
"When they put you on a team with five other people, you really learn to grow with them. I love spending every day with these beautiful sons and daughters of God, finding ways to show them love, and to accept them and love them," said Emma Fradd, NET's music leader, from Port Pirie, Australia.
All of the team members are between 18 and 20. The other team leader was Erica MacLean, from Dartmouth, N.S. Also on the NET team were Marissa Banadyga from Saskatoon, Hannah Bouwman from Abbotsford, B.C., and Joshua Meuse from Ottawa.
The best way to reach the youth was to have young adults leading them. Between people closer in age, there was better understanding and trust.
Father Marc Cramer, pastor at Sacred Heart, said the NET team reached youth at their own level. "There is a need for relationship, and in that sense NET has helped out a lot because they were able to relate to the kids and talk to them."
Most important, the presence of NET Ministries in the community has either introduced or reintroduced the value of "Church" to young people, Cramer said.
MORE YOUTH AT MASS
"It's definitely affected the number of young people coming back to church. There were a couple that weren't interested in church and now are gung-ho and coming. There's also the people who weren't there at all before, and now they're coming to church," said Cramer.
"We're not a big parish, so we have a small youth group, but it's bigger now."
Working behind the scenes was George Chrunik, Anna's father, and an administrative core group. The most phenomenal thing Mr. Chrunik saw was the increased youth activity in the church.
Youth are taking a more active role, including a 14-year-old boy who received First Communion recently.
"Also, we had a Grade 2 girl from Sacred Heart School who approached her parents and said she wanted to be baptized and wanted to be a part of this Church. Her parents have now been inquiring about becoming Catholic."
Where do they go from here?
"We have a couple of good avenues, and there is a possibility that there might be another NET team coming next year," he said.
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