For a group of young people in Bridgeton, the youth choir at the Parish of the Holy Cross is a place where they can discover their own gifts, learn practical skills — and nourish their faith in the process.
The 18 members lead music at Saint Teresa of Avila and Immaculate Conception Church — at Sunday Masses, a weekday Mass held on Thursdays, weddings, anniversary/celebrations, funerals and Quinceañeras, or 15th birthday celebrations.
Children can join the choir as soon as they receive their first Communion, and the oldest members are 16 years old. They need only to “love to sing” and “to be responsible and be open to learn,” choir director Marina Cruz said in Spanish through her translator, Damaris Thillet, a singer herself who is the associate director for the Office of Worship and Christian Initiation for the Diocese of Camden.
Cruz said that for many members, the youth choir is their first ministry experience. Others, like her children, were initially altar servers.
Cruz, who has directed the choir for five years, said she first became involved because she wanted to “support the youth and guide them in using their free time in great things.”
“I want to contribute in community of faith with something productive and positive,” she added.
It can be a struggle at times, though, to keep her teenage members involved, she said.
“The age of a 13-year-old is difficult. That transition is challenging,” she said. “It is not easy to keep them in the choir between the ages of 13 and 14.”
But staying involved helps the youth to “discover their talents and be out of the streets” as well as “become great role models and motivators for other young people,” Cruz said.
For the members, their greatest joys are to meet new friends and to travel to new places to sing, Cruz said.
But it is not only the music that has made an impact on the young members, she explained.
They reflect on Scripture together, receive spiritual guidance and pray before and after each rehearsal and Mass, Cruz said.
And she has seen the fruits of those prayerful moments.
“In many ways, they are closer to the church, more engaged with the ministry and with God,” she said.
The change in the choir members, she said, often affects their loved ones as well.
“Two or three young members that were not coming to church have developed their spiritual life and their parents have approached the church through their participation in the choir,” she said. “It has benefited the entire family.”
Cruz said she hopes each of the members will continue to proudly share what they have learned during their time in the choir.
“[My hope is] that they will remember this experience in a special way when they become adults and carry it in their hearts,” she said.
Amanda Woods is a writer from Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish in Brooklawn, New York.