By Blessed Sacrament staff/ SUN contributing writers
“We can make a difference, we can make a change. We can make the sun shine through the rain.” These were the words enthusiastically sung out by the senior youth group of St. Therese the Little Flower of Jesus Church and Our Lady of Solace Church, both in Syracuse, at their first youth Mass on Nov. 3. Held at St. Therese Church, the Mass thanked God for all his blessings and celebrated the teenagers’ commitments to make a difference.
The youth Mass marked the first of its kind for the senior youth group. The teens participated in every aspect of the Mass. They led parishioners in song and prayer. They composed the Prayers of the Faithful. They served as greeters, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. They also chose the Mass’ theme – “We can make a difference.”
Shakir Patterson, senior youth group member, said that the youth Mass was a way for the group to connect with the parish while at the same time adding their own unique touch to the service. “We wanted to have a youth Mass to get involved with the church but we also wanted it to be ‘our’ Mass. So we tried to do something different, like with the music. We found songs that were upbeat and that we liked,” Patterson explained.
In addition to all their practicing to prepare for the Mass, the group has been busy doing other things too. In the past ten months they have been involved in countless activities and programs designed to make a difference in their own lives and, perhaps more importantly, the lives of others. So far, they have held two car washes, participated in the CROP Walk, collected soda cans for deposit, spent a morning at The St. Joseph Center Challenge Course in Utica to build teamwork and helped with the building of two homes for Habitat for Humanity, just to name a few!
When asked if his involvement in all of these events is hard work, Patterson, 16, explained that he doesn’t really see it as work because he enjoys what he is doing.
“It’s fun,” said Patterson. “Getting involved in youth group is a good way to get to know people and help people in your parish and community.”
Along with community activities and parish involvement, the senior youth group holds meetings every other week. There they discuss topics relevant to them, such as morals and ethics or family issues. At meetings, teens are also given the opportunity to discuss anything else on their minds. Gary Smith, who facilitates the senior youth group along with his wife Bonnie and SU grad student Leslie Borges, believes that the meetings are a good way to open dialogue between advisors and the youth.
“We hope that over time we can create a safe and comfortable environment for teens so that if they did want to come in and talk about serious issues like peer pressure they can, knowing that whatever is said there will be private,” Smith said.
The youth group has turned out to be a positive thing not only for the youth, but also for parishioners. As Smith explained, the group provides a great way for parish and the youth to connect.
“For the past two and a half years the parishioners have been saying ‘We want for youth to get involved’ and asking ‘Where are the youth?’ so that is why we started a youth group,” Smith said. “We are trying to get them (the youth) not just to come together as a group for activities but also to participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is communal. There is a combination between social and service.”
Father William R. Jones, pastor of St. Therese Church and Our Lady of Solace Church, said that he has noticed that parishioners in both congregations seem to be excited about the youth group.
“There has been a general enthusiasm this year about the group. Their efforts to reach out and do good have been successful,” he said. “They are a wonderful group of young people.”
Since its conception in January of 2002 the youth group has done some growing. Formed by couples Gary and Bonnie Smith and Frank and Jody Ridzi, the group started out with an invitation to youth grades seven through nine at St. Therese Church.
In July, when Father Jones became pastor of both St. Therese Church and Our Lady of Solace Church, advisors decided to make some alterations. They created two youth groups and welcomed teens from both parishes to join. One group, led by Frank and Jody Ridzi, consists of teens in grades six, seven and eight. The second group, the senior youth group, was created specifically for older teens in grades nine through twelve. Smith believes that with the formation of a senior youth group, the youth are given something to look forward to as they get older.
In his homily at the youth Mass, Smith, who in addition to his work with the senior youth group serves as lay associate pastor at St. Therese, addressed the youth group and parishioners. He told them they do not need money or fame to do good in the world.
“Most of us will not be famous, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t do something powerful, Smith said. “God doesn’t ask for the big stuff. Our work isn’t complicated. We just need to ask ourselves how we can make a difference today. ‘How do I let God’s sun shine?’”
God’s sun shines daily through the senior youth group of St. Therese and Our Lady of Solace. They are an example of the tremendous impact getting involved can have. Step by step, they are making a difference in the lives of many people and having fun doing it. Judging by them, the future of the church looks pretty bright.