Tag Archives: Confirmation retreat

Youth Evangelisation

Have just returned from The Weekend of the Two Youth Retreats. Yesterday, we heldย 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.

Young People and Confession


“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 hereย andย here and watch a videoย 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.

Small Group Discussion

Recently, I met a catechist who said she wished that there was more time for small group discussion in the programme she helps out with. She felt there was barely enough time to get to know the young candidates in her group, let alone allow them to discuss anything too deeply.

And only this morning, I met a woman who was reflecting that in an adult formation programme she took part in, she felt that she couldn’t express her true thoughts, because her small group leader ‘had all the answers’.

I think these examples betray two problems we come up against with this method of handing of the faith. As a leader, sometimes we are a bit afraid of small group discussion. We’re unsure that our catechists are formed well enough, or know the subject enough, to steer the discussion in a good direction. So we limit it to a token few minutes in the session. The main teaching is a lecture given by someone who we can 100% trust.

And as a small group leader, we can panic when someone starts spouting misunderstandings about the faith; we jump in to get things back on track, then find it much safer to dominate the discussion ourselves.

Sound familiar?

In both scenarios, we are not allowing enough room for the active participation of those we catechise. We all know that people learn when they are active in the learning process. A lecture is not going to cut the mustard. Even if it’s the essence of stunning, polished orthodoxy. Young people and adults both need time to express where they are currently, so that we can take this on board, and lead them to deeper understanding.

This requires great skill. We do need well-formed catechists who not only have deep understanding, but also good people skills. Someone who will allow people to say what they think without panicking, then perhaps drawing in others to come to a clearer answer.

At our recent Confirmation retreat, I saw the benefit of small groups really clearly. In our groups, we prayed together at the beginning and the end of our sessions. At the end of each day, the candidates met together to share their high moment, low moment and ‘God’ moment from the day. (Guess where we got that from – it could only be the archdiocesan summer camp in Kansas!) Small group time gave the candidates an experience of a small, intimate Christian community where they could be completely honest. And that is totally worth it. Even if your catechist doesn’t have a Masters in apologetics.

Someone said to me recently that small groups are like Purgatory for most adults. I am sure we’ve all had such purgatorial experiences. But when they’re done well, it more than worth the initial risk we take. Small group leader training is indispensable!

Confirmation Retreat

A short video of our Confirmation retreat to show the parents when we got home…

Evangelisation in Confirmation preparation

I recently read a great article on the blog Catechesis in the Third Millennium about a session of evangelisation at the start of the Confirmation programme. It is interesting to see different ideas of incorporating this essential element into Confirmation preparation. Of course, catechesis is one of the “moments” of evangelisation, so in a sense it always needs to be evangelistic: attractive, engaging, concerned with converting hearts. This was our concern on our Confirmation retreat last weekend. I’ve said before that it is relatively easy when you have just twenty candidates like we do. Twenty is a great number ๐Ÿ™‚ I have no idea how we would cope with 200!

CFR Friars - an important ingredient for youth evangelisation

We knew the candidates were not greatly looking forward to going away for a weekend early on in the school year. They all had mountains of homework, some had to miss school matches, they didn’t know what to expect. However, the transformation over the weekend was incredible. We had two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal with us for the weekend who proved ever so popular with the candidates, playing football and frizbee, and teaching them annoying games ๐Ÿ˜‰ The first morning (after a first night of some games and a film) started by getting the candidates think honestly about where, on a scale of 1-10, they would say their relationship with God is, which provoked some interesting discussion. This was followed by teaching from the Friars on the love of God the Father, including the testimony of one of them. In response to this teaching, the candidates were invited to go off by themselves to write a personal letter to God the Father, speaking with Him openly. It was amazing to see their enthusiasm for this: they spread out outdoors and in the chapel and spent a good 30 minutes writing. The rest of the weekend included a similar teaching on God the Son, focussed on mercy and forgiveness, in preparation for the evening’s Reconciliation Service. We also had a YouCat workshop, introducing them to their YouCats, which they were presented with by the catechists at the end of Mass, and each small group produced a drama of the life of their Saint. All this was interspersed with football, frizbee and a walk to the site of the kidnap and martyrdom of St Alban (the first martyr of England!).

Perhaps what was best about the weekend – other than the candidates’ willingness to enter into prayer and go to Confession – was the sense of community between them. It was an interesting weekend to recognise the dynamics of the group, and was encouraging to see them include everyone in their activities and look out for each other. Similarly, it was a fantastic opportunity for us as catechists to build relationships with them and get to know them a bit on a human level before the catechesis begins.

So, hopefully, a good start. May the Holy Spirit build on this foundation in leading these young people deeper into Christ!

Confirmation Retreat

Well, we are gearing up for our Confirmation retreat this weekend. It is a busy time of year to organise a weekend retreat, but I think it works. It is part of the initial period of evangelisation at the start of our programme. We only have twenty 13-year-olds so it is possible to do this. We’re going to a youth retreat centre just outside London. The whole weekend is about EVANGELISATION!!

Youth 2000 retreat - a blueprint for effective youth evangelisation

The basic Gospel message. The reason we are taking them away for the weekend is to give them the space to hear it (between the homework slots ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) We have planned everything as best we can to lead these young people to an encounter with Christ. This is what the whole weekend is about. My forte is sadly not youth evangelisation, and we no longer have a youth coordinator, so it has somewhat fallen in my lap. (A catechetical coordinator has to be all things to all people! PA, catechist, youth minister, counsellor, catechist trainer, diplomat, administrator, cook, liturgist, technician, babysitter, housekeeper…)But God is good (all the time!) and we are really blessed to have a great team leading this retreat, including a fantastic girl who has worked with us this month in the parish and two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and some great priests who will be dropping in at different points. Thank God for great youth evangelists ๐Ÿ™‚

I recently came across this excellent article by Amy Welborn on the foundational and effective steps of youth evangelisation. She is basically saying, forget the gloss, the gimics, the “window-dressing” – the Holy Father shows us how it’s done. She identifies five key points which are at the heart of our evangelisation of young people:

1. Teach them who they are
2. Continually hold up Christ as the answer
3. Seeking Christ? He gave us the Church so that we could find him
4. The way of the Christian is the way of the Cross
5. Go out to all nations

This weekend, we will focus on 1 and 2. Who they are and Christ. Jesus and you. He loves you and wants to have a living relationship with you. That is the core message.

St John Bosco - patron of youth

So, we have lots and lots planned hopefully to facilitate this happening. For many of our teenagers it will be the first time they have been to Confession in a long while. For many of them, they will encounter Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament perhaps for the first time.

I pray for an awakening in their desire for God! This is the foundation that is needed for them to receive this year’s catechesis with open hearts.

At the same time, I know that evangelising young people is tough. I know it’s going to be a difficult weekend with not much sleep and goodness knows what other problems, but… call me mad, but I think it’ll be worth it ๐Ÿ™‚

Busy, busy, busy

…is an understatement. I can’t remember the last time I had three days so busy. This week so far has included countless individual meetings with individual parents for similarly infinite number of reasons; leading a training meeting for RCIA catechists and sponsors where we studied the principles of what we are doing and planned for the year ahead; giving a talk to this year’s group of Confirmation parents; launching 3 out of 4 First Communion classes in various venues; resolving problems between the school and the parish and CRB checks; meeting with First Communion catechists to go over the content for the first few classes; meeting Confirmation candidates for initial interviews and tests…the list goes on!

At the end of the day, I thank God that I can say – Holy Spirit, this is your Church – I just work here!

Really, I love my job, and I love the parish. The one thing that saddens me is when parents have so many other priorities over their child’s formation: for example, when a rugby match comes above a Confirmation retreat, or when ‘homework time’ needs to be scheduled into the retreat. At a meeting a few days ago, I told the story of a teenage boy who attended the older youth group in the parish. He was also a swimmer, and had to swim several times a week to stay on the team. When one of those practices regularly collided with the group (at the time they were following the Great Adventure’s Teen Timeline), he had to make a decision. It was an amazing moment when I heard from our youth coordinator that this teenage boy had chosen the Teen Timeline over his swimming. Hopefully it sank in for some of them. I repeat again…

Holy Spirit – this is your Church – I’m just working in it!

Not your typical Confirmation retreat... ๐Ÿ™‚