“Energetic.” “Comical.” “Faith filled.” “Prayerful.”
These are some of the adjectives that students have used to describe their youth group experience at Christ Our Light Parish in Cherry Hill. As our Instagram page describes it: A community of friends gathering to make the world a better place #COLYFF.
Recently, we had one of the best youth events for the year with guest speaker Father Tom Kiely. It is clear that young people have many questions about faith but, unfortunately, they are not given the platform to articulate their ideas. Our session began with students writing numerous questions on paper: questions, some not without humor, related to life, justice, faith, love. We wrapped all our questions and took turns throwing, literally, our questions at Father Tom.
As a youth group we meet frequently, usually a few times a week depending on schedules. Students take the opportunity to reconnect, re-energize and retreat. Many come for a breather from exams, assignments, school activities or the stuff of life. As one of our leaders stated, “We leave refueled because of the prayers each week.” Another stated, “I really look forward for this time together,”
It was striking to hear even the busiest student in the group comment on how meaningful the activity with Father Tom was. What was so interesting about it? Was it the theology? Was it the spirituality? Was it the depth in responses from Father Tom?
Eager to find out, I soon learned from a few families how great it was for their children to have a safe space to ask about concepts like chastity, heaven, purgatory, relationships, guardian angels, a priest’s life. One student said she was never able to speak to a priest so informally.
What if we could reach our young church by simply allowing them the space to share their thoughts, to ask questions, and to learn about God in an enjoyable space? What if each time students met together we as pastoral leaders could create a retreat experience for them — a retreat from the world — and foster growth and encouragement?
The most important message that I hope we can share as pastoral leaders is the message that I heard echoed from Father Tom and Pope Francis, “take care of each other.” If we are able to truly love each other in our small faith groups, then we will be able to serve all of God’s people: the poor, marginalized, imprisoned, victimized and downtrodden. Our love and compassion will radiate energy, joy, faith and prayer.
Sherine Green is Pastoral Associate for Youth Faith Formation at The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill.