Celebrating Youth

March 11-17, 2004
Celebrating Youth
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Oswego –– On Saturday, March 6, 14-year-old Mary Thurlow and her peers were locked-in for their faith. For 12 hours, approximately 60 students in grades eight through 12 from several Oswego parishes were confined inside Trinity School for the annual “Teen Bash” celebration. While a “lock-in” might not sound like fun to some young adults, for the students who participated in Teen Bash there was no place else they would rather have been. “It’s a lot of fun,” said Mary, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church in Fulton. “It’s a great way to hang out with my friends from church and meet new people.” The purpose of Teen Bash was to promote faith, fun and friendship, said Heidi Buda, director of faith formation for youth ministry at Immaculate Conception.

“The kids enjoy the variety of Teen Bash. It ties in their faith with music, dancing, games and friends. It brings everything together,” Buda said. The last decade has witnessed a “youth explosion” in the Catholic Church, as an unprecedented number of young people have become actively engaged in their faith. As the youth grow, the incredible potential of religious education programs and youth ministries to prepare them for a life of faith becomes all the more important.

Buda has found that when adults open up the door to Christ for youths, the response can be tremendous. Teen Bash, which has been going on for six years, has become something that teens in Oswego County look forward to. Mary, who attended Teen Bash last March, came back this year with a couple of her friends.

“I wanted to bring as many people as I could,” Mary said. Teen Bash has exceeded Buda’s expectations. “I never thought that the event would grow so big,” said Buda. She attributes the success of Teen Bash in part to how it brings kids from all points in Oswego County together. “Our children living in the Northern Region are so spread out. It is hard for them all to go to someplace and do something together. This is a good alternative,” Buda said.

The theme of this year’s Teen Bash was “Olympia 2004 –– Go All the Way with God.” It coincides with this summer’s Olympic games in Athens, said Buda. The lock-in began at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Students enjoyed many fun activities throughout the night hours, including workshops, games, basketball and movies. Several students kept themselves entertained by participating in the 3 a.m. Olympic Ceremony, while others danced to the music of the Main Street Boys, a Christian band. A special Mass, celebrated by Father Eric Harer, pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Oswego, concluded the lock-in on Sunday morning. Between activities –– and brief periods of shut-eye –– teens had an opportunity to mingle with Father Harer and Father Stephen Wirkes, pastor of Immaculate Conception. “It’s neat to see them outside of Mass,” said Mary. Buda believes that the priests’ presence at Teen Bash is significant. “During Teen Bash, kids see the priests on their level. It gives them a different environment to make a connection,” she said. “They can talk about their faith, or just play a game together.” At a conference for teenagers, like the one organized at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Liverpool each April, teens gather to be energized by their faith through prayer and fellowship. This year’s conference will be held on Saturday, April 3. The keynote speaker will be Michael Theisen, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Rochester. The theme will be “Live the Good News,” said John Doughty, coordinator of youth ministry at St. Joseph’s. He called the event a “day of evangelization for the parish youth, especially those preparing for confirmation.”

The conference is part of an array of activities that St. Joseph’s offers its young people. Several of the parish’s junior high students will host Stations of the Cross on Friday, April 5. The recitation will include several vignettes that portray the end of John’s Gospel, said Doughty. Many parishes are also holding special events for their young people. On Saturday, April 24, the 18 students who are preparing to receive their first Eucharist at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Chadwicks will participate in a “Day of Preparation.” Sister Lisa Cirillo, CSJ, Director of Religious Education (DRE) at St. Anthony’s, said that the event is another way to make receiving the sacrament special for children. The youths take part in a variety of activities, including exercises pertaining to First Eucharist and a prayer service. “This is one more thing that makes preparation for First Eucharist very special,” Sister Lisa. Parents are invited to attend. On Thursday, April 22, members of the National Evangelization Team (NET) will host a retreat at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Binghamton. The NET is an international youth ministry that is committed to challenging young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the church. Based in St. Paul, Minn., NET Ministries offers training in youth evangelization and leads over 1,000 retreats for youth each year. Drama, music, games, small group discussion and large group presentations are all used to present basic Gospel messages in an exciting and dynamic way.

The confirmation students at St. Catherine’s will be invited to participate in the retreat on April 22. The NET will focus on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the confirmation message. It will be a unique experience for the teenagers, said Joe Tiesi, DRE at St. Catherine’s. “NET travels across the country to give retreats,” he said. “I think it will be good for the students to hear what they have to say.” Tiesi believes that youths are an important part of the fabric of parish life at St. Catherine’s. He tries to give them as many opportunities as possible to get involved. But Tiesi also strives to do something else besides extending an invitation to youths to join events. “Communicating to students that they are an important part of their parish communities –– that they are cared about and belong –– is important,” he said. The annual “CYO Celebrates Youth” is one way that parishes are showing students they care. Tiesi helped to develop the event, which honors two outstanding young adults from each of the participating parishes in the Southern Region. The idea began as a way to recognize youths who might not participate in the CYO basketball program but are actively involved in their church, school and community. The celebration replaces the annual CYO basketball banquet, explained Tiesi. “Our focus used to be mainly on honoring athletes, but it’s not just about sports,” said Tiesi. “We need to do more to recognize the kids who are making contributions to their school, communities and church.” This year’s CYO Celebrates Youth event will be Friday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott. Bishop Thomas Costello, who has participated in the six celebrations since its inception, will celebrate a special Mass. Two of the students being honored are Maureen Baxter and Christopher Dotson. Their youthfulness has not prevented them from being active parishioners at St. Catherine’s; Dotson serves as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist and Baxter is a representative on the parish’s youth council.

“These two students are visible examples to other young people of how you can be well-rounded students who are involved in your church,” said Tiesi. The reason for Baxter’s involvement at St. Catherine’s is a simple one –– she loves her church. “It is important to me to be involved at church. It is such a great community,” she said. Baxter wanted to motivate her peers to get involved, so she helped to start the youth council at St. Catherine’s. “I saw a need for more kids to get involved in our church. Something had to be done,” she said. The church and her faith will always be an important part of Baxter’s life. “People will come and go, but the church community and God will always be there for you,” she said. Baxter and Dotson represent a large group of youths from St. Catherine’s who are actively involved in their parish community. “There is a sense of enthusiasm that the youth here have that is very infectious,” Tiesi said. He praised the dedication and enthusiasm that Father Brian Lang, pastor of St. Catherine’s, has for the parish’s young people. “When you have a pastor like Father Lang who cares about kids and has such a great attitude, it is easy to get kids involved,” Tiesi said.

Tiesi, who has served as DRE at St. Catherine’s for 14 years, also knows that it is not always easy to get young adults excited about their faith, especially those who have been confirmed. Studies indicate that young adults tend to stray from practicing their faith after confirmation. But Tiesi is determined to get as many students as possible to become active members of the parish community. He is currently helping to undertake a new project inviting more students to become a part of the church. He plans on turning a portion of a former school, located down the street from St. Catherine’s, into a youth center. “We are just trying to be welcoming and open to youths of all ages,” said Tiesi. “Everyone has their own pathway to Christ. We want to offer them different ways to get to Him.”

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