Tag Archives: youth evangelisation

Evangelisation: From the Mission Field #1


“‘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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

A Little Facebook Miracle…


Now, I know that there are lots of question marks surrounding Facebook and the human person – what anthropological principles is it built on / does it nurture? Is it yet another addiction for the young who are not yet fully formed in the use of their freedom?

However, as with any morally neutral tool, God can use it powerfully… Here is a little true story of just this happening very recently:

On New Year’s Eve night, during the new year youth retreat, one of the priests gave a powerful homily on Mary, Mother of God. He spoke movingly about how Our Lady had drawn him to his vocation. Specifically, it was through his praying of St Louis-Marie de Montfort’s 33 Day Total Consecration Prayer to Our Lady that led him to become a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal.

After the retreat finished, a girl at the retreat mentioned on Facebook that she and a couple of friends had decided to pray this consecration, aiming to finish on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February.

No sooner had she posted, than young friends began commenting, saying they would love to join in too. She heroically began collecting email addresses, in order to send out a daily email with the prayers.

By the time the day came to begin the consecration, over 1000 people had pledged to pray this consecration!

I am happy to say I am one of them 🙂 Fr Sebastian’s homily touched me deeply. Throughout the lead-up to Christmas, I felt a strong call on my heart to give myself more fully through Mary’s hands to Jesus. In particular, I wanted to be more faithful to my daily Rosary. When I heard his homily on the brink of the new year, I was utterly confirmed in my conviction to do this. And when I saw the status inviting people to consecrate themselves to Our Blessed Mother, it didn’t take me a second’s thought to sign up.

I am sure this gives Jesus and Mary much joy to see so many people keen to consecrate their lives more deeply. However, please keep these young people in your prayers that they remain steadfast, persevere to the end and that this little Facebook miracle gives much glory to God.

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 of the Young

September whizzes on, without letting up on the busy-ness, which is why it’s been pretty quiet on the blog-front. This last weekend, I was totally preoccupied with the evangelisation of young people (both doing and thinking about!). I think I can safely say, it was one of the most intense weekends of my catechetical life.

You know when something is so crazy, it takes days after to process it all? Well, my mind has been reeling a little. Without going into all the ins and outs, this was definitely a packed, emotional rollercoaster of a weekend: small dramas, new friendships, old feuds, tears, conversions, tantrums, reconciliations, singing (who knew the easiest thing about the weekend would be getting teenagers to sing?!), joy, tiredness… with some marshmallows, a campfire, football, journal-writing and Ninja thrown in. In one word: Intense. “And that was just the boys,” my friend joked yesterday. Almost, people. Almost.

What did they say they loved about the weekend? “Singing great songs and really meaning it;” “Getting to share in our small groups;” “Everyone being together around the campfire;” “Having a big burden lifted off in Confession;” “Going to Confession and for the first time saying everything I’ve actually done;” “Feeling like I actually believe in God”…

Sounds great, right?! And yet, the reality is so TOUGH! To be an effective youth evangelist, I discovered, you also need to be a disciplinarian (well, with our teens, anyway), a parent, a counsellor… You constantly have to make quick decisions about how to respond to everything from giggling in the chapel to playing football in the house at 6am, from petty squabbles to full-blown teenage stroppiness. What do you let go? And what do you need to deal with? All of these are part and parcel of evangelisation, because all of it is about how we are handing on Christ to the young.

Over the last week, I’ve realised I have a long way to go in doing any of this well. Over the weekend, I felt I was leaning heavily on the Cross, praying from minute to minute, responding to drama after drama, giving Gospel-message talks, and knowing I could do none of it with my own strength.

But, on the last day, hearing the words above, hearing our kids sing their hearts out to praise songs they had never heard before (we have quite a traditional musical heritage in our parish) and hearing our kids willing to pray aloud together, I saw some fruits… Even if we have a very long way to go.

Sometimes you get an easy year with Confirmation… this one is definitely not one of those! Lord, give us your wisdom and strength.

Fresh Experience of Conversion

One of the things I do in my spare time is serve on the leadership team of Youth 2000 (ha ha, I know – normal people take up zumba or buy nice things from Boden…) I first had my conversion ten years ago through Youth 2000 when I was 17. So it is a great, great joy to continue to serve. Every year at Walsingham I wonder when will be my last year, when the Lord will make it clear that this has come to an end. But, somehow, it never grows stale and I continue to receive so many graces through Youth 2000.

Leadership team being commissioned at this year’s festival

One of the beautiful things about Youth 2000 is that it brings you right back again to the fresh experience of conversion. It brings you back to basics – being simple and humble, open and intimate with Christ. It is so beautiful to see this journey beginning in young souls. I don’t have dramatic experiences of God’s love anymore like I did when I was going to retreats at 17 and 18. God needed to get my attention back then, and now my faith has deepened and strengthened, so now it is more a daily experience of his love in my life. But on Sunday night, we heard testimony after testimony from young people, all aged between 16 and 21, of the powerful experiences of God’s love they had received through Confession and the Eucharist. They often articulated them nervously, but an authentic, unmediated experience of joy, peace and freedom from having just been touched by Christ, radiated from each one.

I am sure that, this hidden work of the Holy Spirit and the open response of each individual, young soul is the most precious thing in the whole Church, the whole world!

When I was 17 I didn’t quite realise how precious it was, and perhaps those young people who with such courage and faith got up to give their testimony, don’t either. No one gets to see these miracles within souls. The humility of the Lord in working in such a hidden way is exquisite. But this is exactly what is beautiful about being a Catholic – the joy of being touched by Christ. If we ever lose sight of that, we are lost!

One of the team updated her status:

Just had an incredible experience with about 20 other young people, most aged 16 or 17, who chose to sacrifice sleep and come pray & worship in adoration from 3-4am, or the “power hour”, as we call it! I was really touched seeing these teens pouring their hearts out in prayer to God at that time of the morning – 3am has a new meaning for me, I think!

Over the weekend, I couldn’t help thinking of CT 5 (yes, I know, CT 5 is never far from a catechist’s mind 😉 ):

“the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ”

This is something that is achieved at Walsingham without a shadow of a doubt. Over the space of five days, hundreds of teenagers and young adults have their faith awakened, it is as though their souls rise from the dead, from sleeping; they repent of their sins, experience healing in Christ and the joy of relationship with him.

It’s a winning formula! However, I am very aware that, in our parish programmes, we rarely see the same depth of conversion after a year’s catechesis.

Here’s the theme song from this year’s festival: ‘The lost are found, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead will live…’ We really saw this at Walsingham! The deepest prayer in my heart is that we are able to put people into intimacy with Christ in the parish, too, so that we witness the same kind of miracles…

Flame Congress

Well, you have to admit it. CYMFed did a great job. Ten years ago Catholic youth ministry could not have pulled together something like that. Twelve years ago when I was confirmed, the local ‘youth ministry expert’ came to run a post-Confirmation day with us which, among other things, involved us painting a stone with something that expressed who we were. At fifteen years old, this activity, to put it mildly, turned me off being a Catholic quite considerably and sent me off in search of much less cringeworthy evangelical youth gatherings with my friends. Nowadays, going by what we saw at Flame, there aren’t many youth ministry gurus left who would subject teenagers to painting stones.

Our teenagers loved it. Highlights were the Glee musical flashmob and the interview with Paralympian Stef Reid. I admit that my group leader friend and I laughed out loud with embarrassment at Fr Timothy Radcliffe’s wonderful “Ri-Hanna” blip. But, ironically, it was one of my fifteen-year-old brother’s best bits: “Yeah that priest dude was a legend!” Err…really? Well, OK then. If you say so.

Most impressive by far was the fact that thousands of Catholic teenagers (most of whom, let’s face it, were not practising their faith) participated in moments of silent Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in a packed out Wembley Arena. That, along with Edwin Fawcett’s considerable talent at getting young people to sing and actually enjoy themselves, and Paschal Uche’s never-failing ability to inspire young people in their faith, showed our country’s youth ministry at the best it’s ever been (in my lifetime, anyway). God bless Paschal Uche. He is a household name now in Catholic circles and is invited to speak at just about everything. Paschal dropped into the parish yesterday and I was only glad he left right before the Confirmation candidates arrived as we’d have had lots of starstruck girls on our hands.

Now, onward and upward…

In the next post or two, I’d like to share some reflections on where youth ministry can still improve from here.

New Year Youth Retreat

Here are some photos from our new year youth retreat – it seems a long time ago now, but there is still lots of excitement about it on Facebook… Here’s a taster from this really blessed weekend. Courtesy of Edward Morton Photography.