March 13-19, 2003
Catching the Call
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Over 100 students from 18 parishes across the diocese gathered on March 8 for the 5th Annual Jr. High Youth Day. Sponsored by the Office of Youth Ministry, the day was an opportunity for youth to celebrate their faith through games, workshops, group activities, dancing and prayer. The theme of this year’s youth day was “We all belong to the family of God: What happens to me affects my neighbor.” Students were told that family means caring not only for each other, but also all of God’s creation. The day began with icebreakers, teamwork exercises and a presentation by youth council leaders which set the day’s theme in motion.
“Our skit showed a young man who has committed an unjust act (stealing). After reflecting on the hurt he has caused other people, like his parents and the store owner, he returned the item and asked God for forgiveness,” said Brian Garrett, a member of Youth Council. “The point was to get students to ponder how they can be leaders of social justice. Hopefully, they saw that standing up for little things can have a big affect on the world.” The keynote speaker was Vikki Shepp, who works for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as a Consultant of Youth Ministry. She traveled across the country from her home in California to be a part of Jr. High Youth Day. Sister Eileen McCann, CSJ, diocesan director of the Office of Youth Ministry, said that she heard of Shepp’s great reputation for working with Jr. High students and knew that she had to be a part of youth day.
“From what I have heard repeatedly by folks out on the West Coast, Vikki truly has a gift for working with young students and social justice. We are honored that she would come so far to share in our day,” said Sister Eileen. Being that she is from a beach community, Shepp called her presentation “Catch the Wave.” She thought that the metaphor of surfing would grab students’ attention and motivate them to discover a calling to live lifes of service, justice and peace. Shepp told the youth that, for her, the ocean is where she finds God. The sound of the waves and the inner peace she senses when she is surfing in the ocean really lets her feel His presence, she said. Shepp then asked students to think of the place where they feel closest to God. Perhaps it is the library, or a spot somewhere in nature, she said. Once students found their special place, Shepp then asked them how they would feel if something were to happen that threatened to destroy this place.
“What would you do if there were people who wanted to ruin your place?” Shepp asked. “Do you feel strongly enough about it that you would work to keep it the way it is? Maybe you would picket or join an organization to keep it out of harms way.” Shepp explained that through this exercise she was trying to motivate students to get involved in their communities. There are countless worthy causes that they can get involved in that would make the world a better place, such as clean-up projects or food drives, she said. Shepp pointed out that in the Bible, God calls His people to get out and do good, not just to sit around and talk about it.
“The Gospel values call us to do positive things in our communities and serve our brothers and sisters.” Shepp said. “It is simple to make a commitment to do something that makes the world a better place. It starts with something little, but before you know it, you will be making a big difference.” Jennifer Mucurio, of St. Agnes Church in Utica, enjoyed the way in which Shepp presented her message to serve. Jennifer said that it wasn’t a typical boring talk –– Shepp really made students feel enthusiastic about getting involved. “Getting involved doesn’t have to be a chore. If you find something you feel strongly about, then it can be fun to do something. It’s all about the trickle down effect; once you are involved, you can motivate others into doing something with you,” Jennifer, 12, said.
Sister Eileen believes that Jr. High Youth Day is a great way to facilitate students’ involvement in the church at an early age. She was pleased that so many students took advantage of the day to come experience the larger church and to learn how to get involved. “One of the frequent cries we hear from the field is that there is nothing for this age group church-wise, so we give them this day annually,” Sister Eileen explained. “It is a wonderful opportunity for them to learn with others of the same age group who share their faith. We offer them good catechesis flowing from powerful prayer and allow them to have fun at the same time. It is a chance for us as the church to say to them that they are important to us.”
At the conclusion of the day, students were challenged to find a place or an organization that needs their help and get involved. Jamal Dumerville, of St. Anthony’s Church in Syracuse, said that he plans to accept the challenge and join an organization where he can do something positive. “Today taught me that it can be fun to get involved,” Jamal, 14, said. “Even though we are young, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t find a place that needs our help because there are a lot. If we really want to, we can do anything.”