Category Archives: Youth Catechesis

Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #1

stag4clemente

“‘In the desert, people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive’ (Benedict XVI). In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” Evangelii Gaudium, 86

Anyone in need of some ENCOURAGEMENT?!

In this new series of posts, “From the Mission Field”, I want to share some of what I can see the Holy Spirit doing through some wonderful people around the country. These are just some people I have come across, whose openness to the Holy Spirit is achieving marvels that most will never hear about.

Here, I ask them about how they evangelise in their corner of the world, what God is doing, and how they face challenges and discouragement. My hope is that it will bring you courage as you evangelise in your own corner of the vineyard…

#1 Salisbury Youth Ministry – Xanthe Dell

xanthe

So, kicking off with youth ministry… I first met Xanie on a week’s silent retreat in France. She was accompanied by several teenagers (kinda normal for Xanie). Being in silence, we didn’t speak to each other the whole week, but at the end I felt like I knew her as a sister in Christ. I haven’t stopped being impressed by her ever since…

Xanthe is a Deanery youth worker in Salisbury, a role which includes chaplaincy work in a secondary school. She is mum to Daisy (16) and just celebrated three years as a Catholic.

Xanie, we hear amazing things about the youth ministry in Salisbury. What do you have happening? 

We have five weekly groups for varying ages, a monthly youth Mass and retreats here, there and everywhere, and seasonal activities.

SYC1

We’ve also started a mission team, called ‘The Third Hour’. The idea came from a visit we did to Nailsea for a youth Mass. Sadly not too many young people came at that time from the parish, but it did strike me that we seemed to have a complete mobile youth Mass on our minibus (except the priest!). The next thing that prompted us was that convincing our Confirmation group to come on Youth 2000 retreats seemed so difficult. I realised that because they had never experienced any sort of youth retreat, they couldn’t raise enthusiasm to come along. The two slipped together and so we try to take a mini youth retreat to young people in other parishes, in the comfort of their own church. The lovely thing is that it is not just a Salisbury based team now, young people from all over the country come to help out running the programme. There is still some polishing up to do to make it smooth and professional but the impact is powerful.

Has it always been like this? How did it all begin?

Fr Tom (Dubois) started three of the groups: a youth SVP, ‘Source’ for young people aged 10-14, and ‘Upper Room’ once a fortnight for those age 15 and up. It was those very small groups that really became the foundation of the youth ministry. It doesnt matter how fantastic your programme is or how dynamic you are as a youth leader – you need a few enthusiastic young people to start things off. It is the young people who bring the other young people in.

SYC3

Where have you seen the Holy Spirit working? What has God done?

I think the most powerful work of the Holy Spirit I see is the transformation of some of these young people through the sacrament of reconciliation. The more they struggle to take themselves into Confession, the more they seem to receive from going – it is truly beautiful to see them emerge unburdened and free and always deeply touches me.  

There are times when you see the light of Christ just come alive in them – when you get a text at 1am in the morning because they have just had the most special time of prayer, or have just had a deep conversation with an atheist friend and they are desperate just to share that.

Those times when you think no one is getting it, that everyone seems to be turning their back on their faith, and then 10 young people walk in for a weekday Mass just because they can – that’s amazing. So many graced moments.

SYC4

One that particularly stands out to me was during a session that I do at the school for girls. The girls had a piece of cord with a crucifix on the end, the idea was to tie a knot in the cord for every worry or burden they were carrying and then to pray a Hail Mary on each of the knots all day, keeping the cord in their pockets. One girl I noticed had run out of cord there were so many knots, I asked her if she really had that many problems or had she just got carried away. She started to tell the saddest story to the group: her father had left, her mother couldnt keep her older brother out of trouble and he was potentially going to be taken into care. When I looked around I noticed the girls had all started tying another knot in their cords, I looked puzzled but one of them explained that they were going to be praying for this girl’s burden too. I was so touched by the beauty of this unspoken understanding and compassion from mostly unchurched children that it still gives me a lump in my throat.

In your view, what are some of the key ingredients to fruitful youth ministry?

Christ and prayer. It may sound obvious, but I get a lot of pressure from parents to provide table tennis or pizza nights.

While this has its place, Jesus has to be the centre of everything we do here. The moment I push Jesus to one side I’m not serving any purpose other than being a child-sitter. There is the misconception that if you mention Christ, all young people will run in the opposite direction. The reverse is true – if all we do is just whisper his name in an opening and closing prayer, we are saying that this is not going to interest you; what we have is not important or worthwhile. It is now very countercultural to be religious! Shout about it and they will too. When we dilute our faith for young people the flavour that is the desirable part is what we remove.

SYC2From the outside, the youth ministry in Salisbury seems to be flourishing. But what are some of the most difficult things about it? What discourages you and how do you deal with discouragement?

The hardest part is when you see young people who have had an intimate encounter with Christ still turn away at times – this breaks my heart, but over time I have come to realize that sometimes God lets them choose: like the Prodigal Son they come back stronger, more focussed, more in awe and with a real first hand knowledge of just how merciful God can be. Even knowing this it still breaks me to see it.

The lack of parental support for their children’s faith is quite often an issue too. While I see so many parents sitting without their children at Mass, praying for them to come back, there are just as many that see swimming or ballet or the Duke of Edinburgh award as far more important than anything that is happening in church. There seems to be a fear that they will become too religious, which surprises and saddens me. There is a huge opportunity for someone to evangelise the parents though!

Is work-life balance important in youth ministry and how do you manage this?

The straight answer is, I dont! They are merged into one. It is not a job that fits neatly into set hours and days, I am available 24/7 and they know that. If Im cooking a meal and three young people show up, they join us. Some of the older over 18s have a key to my house and it is not unusual to find them sitting round my table having a cup of tea and a chat or watching a film when I come home. Its never been abused. It is an open door and thats the only way I can find it works for me. It wouldnt work for everyone and Im blessed to be in a position to give in this way. Its very difficult to differentiate between work and service. Do I stop being a Christian at 10pm on a Sunday evening even if I’m not being a youth worker? It is something that became too tricky to separate. I know the signs now of burning out and I take myself off to a convent or retreat somewhere and restore and refill.

SYC5

If you had one piece of advice to a youth minister just setting out, what would it be?

Just one – live what you teach! If you are not going to Mass or Confession or living a moral life, its very hard to bring others to do it either. Your own relationship with God should be given more importance than the young people’s. It is always God who does the work through us, we are just a pen in His hand, writing on someone else’s page. We have to pray to be a useful tool and not a hindrance to what He wishes to do in these young people’s lives. When I’m living as I should then I can trust the things that dont always look so good are all in His hands.

Any final words…?

I once read a youth ministry article asking, ‘would you die for your young people?’ Its a big ask; far harder and more rewarding I think is to live for them. We are always given the patience and wisdom that we need for that young person at that moment. So many times I have looked to God aghast saying, “Well, you put me here, help me! and always, always He does. 

(Photos courtesy of Salisbury Young Catholics; used with permission.)


Youth Evangelisation

Have just returned from The Weekend of the Two Youth Retreats. Yesterday, we held a diocesan Confirmation retreat led by Youth 2000; and today, I went to Salisbury to Expression, and led a workshop. I hope to write more about Salisbury soon, as their youth ministry is a beacon of light in our country… it is thriving and bearing much fruit.

On the subject of youth evangelisation, I love this little clip… A great clip to use for forming young disciples on how to evangelise.


And the best youth ministry in the UK is…

1010375_415606821891962_662805018_n

Maybe I’m ever so slightly biased, but it’s definitely one of the best examples of youth ministry there is.

And the reason Youth 2000 is so successful at enabling young people to encounter Christ, taste what life is like in Him, and so allow the Holy Spirit to transform their hearts – is because it’s all about Him – Jesus!

No gimmicks, no clever marketing strategies, (almost literally) no money… just young people passionate for their peers to experience the healing, transforming, beautiful love of the Lord.

This video is a wonderful example of exactly this – young people super-keen for others to experience the love they have experienced:

I’ve known Youth 2000 over the last ten years, and what has convinced me of the Lord’s guiding it, is the fact that – against all odds, with no official funding from dioceses, with extremely limited resources, and overcoming many difficulties – countless young people meet Christ, are converted, are transformed, through these retreats. Each year, the team of young people leading the retreat gets bigger, better, even more awesome. This year, over thirty young people aged 16-25 met for a weekend to pray for and plan for the Walsingham Festival – see more about Walsingham here.

Too often, we experience (still!) in churches – often at the parish Confirmation Mass – well-intentioned, older generations heartily singing ‘Here I Am Lord’ on the guitar, thinking that this is what young people like. What is unique about Youth 2000 is that it is all about peer ministry – young people evangelising young people themselves.

If you know any young person aged 16-25 – don’t hesitate to invite them to Walsingham this year (22-26 August).

As with any great work within the Church, it is often the hidden, little, under-resourced initiatives that are the most spiritually powerful and effective. This is definitely the case with Youth 2000. (Follow the new YouTube Y2konnected channel and see some of the testimonies or like the page on Facebook)

And finally, if you are too old for the festival, but have a heart for bringing young people to Christ – Youth 2000 finally paid off the bills for last summer’s Walsingham festival this spring. At the moment, young people are organising all the fundraising events you can think of (football tournament, music ministry night, a star-studded ball) to raise funds for this year’s festival (which in total costs £80,000 – participants are asked for a donation of £100 each, but many are students). If you are in a position to donate to this year’s festival and directly contribute to the evangelisation of the young, please contact the National Office who can advise you of a secure way of donating: info@youth2000.org.


Catechetical Resources: Video Clips…

Here are three video clips I’ve found recently which I think will be great to add to our little catechetical ‘stores’ for future use…

Number One. Liturgy (Adult Catechesis) I love this clip! It shows the continuity, difference and complementarity of the liturgical styles of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. We hear quite a bit of talk where people – depending on their own preferences – either bemoan Pope Francis’s liturgy and long for Pope Benedict’s, or on the contrary, enthuse about what a breath of fresh air Pope Francis’s approach is, compared to the supposedly stuffy approach of Pope Benedict. None of these attitudes will do! Let us be faithful to each one. This video shows it wonderfully. Thank you to Fr James’s blog where I found this.

Number Two. Confession (Youth Catechesis) No one beats John Pridmore for evangelising young people on Confession. (In fact, it was his testimony – which I have now heard at least a hundred times 😉 – that made me make my first full Confession at age 17) In the Confirmation session I used to lead on Confession, I always tried to ensure we had a young person give their testimony to the candidates on Confession. There is nothing like a young person, speaking from the heart, and exposing their own vulnerability, to enable young people themselves to go with courage to the confessional and open their hearts fully to Christ. However, if you do not have a young person to share such a testimony, I’d say this little clip is the next best thing.

Number Three. Evangelisation (Young People) This awesome little music video from Edwin Fawcett is ideal for ‘primary evangelisation’ of young people. As I’ve mentioned constantly on this blog, we must never jump straight into catechesis with young people – we need to spend time evangelising, allowing Christ to attract their hearts first. Unless some level of conversion has happened, catechesis will be like empty words to them. Resources for a youth evangelisation retreat are like gold dust – these are the priceless tools we can use to allow God to reach into young people’s hearts and call them to conversion. Edwin is a first-class youth evangelist. (The period of evangelisation in our Confirmation programme always used to include a praise and worship session with him… now he’s onto bigger and better things 😉 ) I love this video – it reaches into broken youth culture and allows God to draw young people to himself.


Young People and Confession

PICEDITOR-SHD

“We must never masquerade before God.”

These are the wonderful words of Pope Francis on Confession in a homily Tuesday morning on Confession. Confession is where there is no room for half-truths or tricks. This is where we personally meet Jesus Christ, from whom we can hide nothing, and who always receives us with great, tender mercy.

How delighted I was to see this after coming from a weekend where we witnessed precisely this power of the sacrament with young people.

Last weekend was the weekend-of-the-Confirmation-retreats. I helped out with two different retreats which happened to fall on the same weekend. The first was helping out a priest friend of mine, the second was seeing my old Confirmation group in Balham, due to be confirmed this Sunday. They have been preparing since September and it was wonderful to see them all again.

It was interesting to spend the weekend with two different groups: the similarities among teenagers are many. Furthermore, both groups have been following the same programme (one that I wrote for the group in Balham) so for me it was insightful to see them at different stages of it. With the first group, I led the same retreat that we do in Balham right at the beginning of the year. The idea behind it is that it is an evangelisation retreat, proclaiming the central Gospel message (or kerygma) and starting the young people out on a process of conversion. You can read about this retreat here and here and watch a video here. For the group last weekend, the retreat fell in the middle of their programme. However, we decided to do the same evangelisation retreat, as it is impossible to hear the Gospel message and call to conversion too much, right?! In the event, it worked brilliantly.

I think the entire fruitfulness of a retreat like this rests on the sacrament of Confession. You can have the most dazzling, entertaining, polished, non-stop fun youth retreat in the world, and the kids can leave buzzing, but unless they have made a good Confession, let me be bold and say I don’t think it is worth spending so much time and energy. For me, the entire retreat is about this. The retreat begins with God the Father’s love for us, progresses through the mercy of Jesus, God the Son, and finishes on Sunday morning with the power of God the Holy Spirit. Simple. The climax is the Saturday evening Reconciliation Service.

On this particular Saturday evening, the candidates seemed so ready to receive the grace of Confession. Many admitted they had not been to Confession for years. Opportunities for Confession had been offered during their Confirmation sessions and not taken up. So we needed to make this work! We spent a good chunk of time on Saturday afternoon on how to go to Confession, and spent time in small groups addressing concerns. I took my group off for a girlie chat, and we ended up going in detail through an examination of conscience. No stone was left unturned – we talked Sunday Mass, laziness, gossiping, purity. I discovered that the girls simply didn’t know the kinds of things they should confess. One girl said she just made things up when she went to Confession at school. I discovered I needed to spell things out to them – step by step – how to say things, what information to give, what to leave out. How often do we take time to do this with our young people? On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of our girlie chat, I found these teens soaking everything in, and, to my amazement, writing everything down. Incredible. They had a deep desire to make good Confessions but didn’t know how.

It was a long night for our priest! But very, very fruitful. What a grace to be able to lead people to Jesus’ mercy. I would not have wanted anything else to have filled last weekend.


How long?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

How do we prepare young people to receive the sacraments fruitfully?

Here I am, still marvelling every day at where I’ve landed, right on the south coast. A lot of adjustment is going on: from the city to the seaside; from a fast-paced lifestyle to a slower one; from hundreds of young adults in church to… (let’s be honest) very few. I’m getting my head around a few things. My current experience is probably closer to every normal Catholic’s experience, but it is quite different from where I’ve come from.

So, blog readers, this is where you come in 🙂 Adjusting from a pretty rosy catechetical scene, I now find myself asking – how do we get there? How does this happen? What is the Lord calling us to do?

Here’s my first little topic for us to mull over…

I’m coming from a parish where every sacramental programme was no less than a year long. It was the system in place when I arrived four years ago, and I had never experienced anything like it, least of all in my own sacramental preparation as a child and teenager. But over time, I began to see the huge benefit of it. Gradually I became a big advocate of long programmes. Why? Here are some reasons:

  • Catechesis should be ongoing, anyway – for every single one of us (see GDC 84) – so if we can’t have permanent catechesis for all children, then their sacramental preparation needs to at least be long enough to cover the Deposit of Faith
  • Every baptised person has a right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith and you cannot do that in six sessions
  • Sacramental preparation should prepare each person’s heart to receive the sacrament fruitfully – which only happens if they have the right disposition. Creating the conditions for this disposition to be formed is a work of delicacy, prayer, and much effort, and, as with everything involving the Holy Spirit, takes time – why rush the conversion process?
  • There is a great advantage to regularity in formation – if we go to something each week, it is far more likely to become a good habit – there is more chance this will continue after the sacraments have been received
  • Regular nourishment is how God wants to form us! Not a great big feast and then starvation mode for several years. He wants to feed us with his Scriptures and teaching regularly, frequently

I admit – it is hard enough maintaining a long programme already in place. Parents see the parish next door confirming any teenager who moves, and they are resentful at what they see as the “demands” placed on them.

Every year we faced grumbles like this. During one parent’s meeting, however, one parent (previously dubious) stood up to defend the length of the programme, saying that the community and friendship which was forged as a result was remarkable and now sustained her daughter’s faith life.

In my experience, it is worth holding firm and sticking to your guns, and allowing the few who will drop off and head to the next door parish to do just that.

But, if you are starting this up somewhere, I imagine it is a whole different story. How do you suggest the new approach to parents? How do you convince young people this will be worth it? Please share your ideas!


A walk-through our Confirmation session…

Catechists love hearing about how other catechists or other parishes ‘do things’. In fact, although I’ve never done it, I would love, one day, just to sit in on another parish’s Confirmation programme as an observer.

So, I thought I’d tell you about one of the sessions we did recently. Each week follows roughly the same structure. This was the fifth session of the year (following the evangelisation retreat). The sequence of sessions so far has gone like this:

Made for God; The Dignity of the Human Person; Sin and Mercy; The Forgiveness of Sins (Baptism)

This session was the Forgiveness of Sins (Reconciliation). All of our candidates were prepared for making a good Confession on retreat; many of them had gone again since then. This session was designed to go more deeply into some of the themes. Here’s what we did…

We opened, as we always do, by creating the atmosphere of prayer with one or two songs of praise leading into a Liturgy of the Word (First Reading – Ezekiel 36, about receiving a new heart and a new spirit – followed by the Gospel – John 8, the woman caught in the act of adultery – proclaimed by the priest).

After the Liturgy of the Word, we have a proclamation (more on the proclamation can be seen here), summing up the main message of today’s session: Confession is one of the greatest graces we can receive again and again in our life. It renews the soul, completely unburdens it, and renews it with strength. God is merciful, and he wants us to claim his mercy.  (See YouCat 226). We then showed the video clip from the Passion of the Christ (don’t worry, none of the gory bits) of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene from being stoned to death and offering her new life.

Then comes the ten-minute teaching, the unpacking bit. Here (continuing from the previous week’s session on Baptism) we looked at why we continue to sin (the candidates learned the word ‘concupiscence’, the inclination to sin), seen in this woman (probably Mary Magdalene) who was caught committing adultery and brought before Jesus. To demonstrate this, we used a clean glass of water (again, this continued from the previous week’s session). This is what our soul is like after Baptism. But what happens? We sin. The candidates named some sins, and with each one, poured ketchup, tabasco sauce, and numerous other sauces into the water to make rather a disgusting concoction. This is what happens to our souls through sin – they become murky. The candidates looked up YouCat 226, which was followed by an evangelistic teaching of what happens in Confession – Jesus knows all of the mess in our souls, he knows what we’ve done. When we go to Confession, we meet him personally, tell him all of this, and tell him that we are sorry. It is like we are ‘un-nailing’ Christ from the Cross and receiving the love and mercy he wants to pour out on us.

A Crucifix in our church

Next, the candidates were invited to share with the person next to them what they thought teenagers found the hardest about going to Confession. We went through each of these one by one – telling your sins to someone is embarrassing; some sins are too bad to say; what if he recognises my voice?

This was followed by a young catechist giving his testimony about how he slipped into not going to Confession for years while he was a student, and the amazing experience of coming back to Jesus through this sacrament.

Then, we went into a practical small group activity where the candidates had to put pieces of paper into two lists: one relating to mortal sins, and one relating to venial sins. We talked about the kinds of sin which come under each category. Our emphasis here was on saying everything in Confession, even venial sins. But being aware that serious sins, knowingly and willingly committed, cut us off completely from God.

Finally, another young catechist performed a role play of Confession with the priest, giving examples of sins that a young person might confess, and demonstrating the words of the prayers that the candidates might not be too sure of.

We finished up with a time of prayer in the church: music, an examination of conscience, a Scripture reading, and an opportunity for the candidates to go to Confession.

This is a pretty typical session: we like to break it up with a variety of different activities and it takes one and a half hours.