Tomorrow’s Leaders

July 8-21, 2004
Tomorrow’s Leaders
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Teens Gather for Christian Leadership Institute

ROME –– Leadership, moral choices, communication, decision making and team work were just a few of the topics covered at the 2004 Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) Conference held at Delta Lake on June 27 though July 1. Twenty-eight teens from parishes throughout the Diocese of Syracuse came together to strengthen their faith, confidence and self-esteem through a variety of seminars, exercises and team-building activities. CLI provides teens with an opportunity to develop skills for leadership and Christian ministry while fostering spiritual and personal growth.

At the beginning of the conference, the teens were split into support groups of five or six in order to learn to function as a team. Each group took turns planning daily prayer and worship, scheduling social events, and devising wake up calls. The students also participated in skill workshops that focused on communication, planning, group dynamics and decision making. Mary Gregory, pastoral associate at St. Mary of the Lake in Skaneateles, presented the teens with a list of 11 contemporary moral issues and asked them to choose the three they felt were the most important. The list included issues such as abortion, racism, drugs, poverty and capital punishment. The students considered war, drugs and abortion as the three most important. Gregory asked the students to name some of the moral decisions they are faced with on a daily basis. Cheating on tests, sharing homework, what one chooses to wear, the way students treat other people and decisions about drug and alcohol use were some of the responses voiced by the students. “Making moral decisions will happen more and more as you grow older,” said Gregory. “But God has given you gifts –– the gift of life, the gift of intelligence and the ability to make decisions.” Gregory then discussed with the teens the guidelines to making good moral decisions. Using the acronym STOP, which represented four key words –– search, think, others and prayer, Gregory used each one as a learning tool in her instructional dialogue. “When making moral decisions, search out the facts of the situation by asking reality revealing questions such as what, why, who, when and where,” said Gregory. A discussion ensued on why one would cheat on a test or why a nation goes to war.

Additional dialogue included questions of who else is affected by the poor decisions one makes, what other alternatives could be chosen when faced with a moral decision and what are the consequences of one’s decisions and actions. “In society today, consequences are not an issue until they come up. Consider the effect your actions will have on others, said Gregory. The last lesson Gregory shared with the students was prayer. “How can prayer help you?” she asked. “When taking a test, it can help you relax, help you approach the test calmly, relieve anxiety and help you stay focused,” said Gregory. The students left the seminar pondering Gregory’s words. Lauren Drozynski, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s Church in Camillus, said that Gregory’s lesson and the conference as a whole have helped her grow in her faith. “I can bring this home with me,” she said. “I am now more confident about my religion and what I will do for it.” Lauren said that because of her experience at the CLI Conference, she will return to Confirmation class at St. Joseph’s’ with more enthusiasm.

“Confirmation will mean more to me now than to just be something your parent’s make you do. I’ve learned more about my religion and now understand what everyone is talking about.” Priya Knudsen, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville, said that the week of instruction has not only given more meaning to her Confirmation classes but has also taught her the effectiveness of prayer. “You have to put it [prayer] to work for you,” she said. “It brings you closer to God and the spirit within you.” Priya said the experience has made her a better Catholic. “It was very surprising to me that it strengthened my faith. And it’s not at all boring,” she said.

The students participated in fun and diverse activities. To build communication skills, the teams were asked to complete a variety of tasks without communicating with one another. Those that were deemed to have strong oratory skills had their mouths covered with tape, while students identified as observers and listeners were blindfolded. The high-energy students had their hands and feet tied before the start of the task. Lauren, who was blindfolded, had to put together a puzzle by listening to the instructions of the other team members. Lauren was the only one allowed to touch the puzzle pieces.

“The lesson was that the task is not the most important thing but how we cooperated as a group was,” said Christina Elacqua, a parishioner of St. Mary of Mount Carmel Church in Utica, who was one of Lauren’s and Priya’s teammates. “You get so caught up in winning that working together didn’t seem important. But the experience opened my eyes to things such as communication and sharing with others.” Christina said she learned this lesson after she had to communicate her birth date to her team members without speaking. “It was all about learning to trust in a small group setting,” said Lauren. “I easily learned about everyone on the team and what they were feeling. I learned to trust them.” Priya said that her favorite part of the retreat was –– everything. “I’ve made so many new friends. And I’m actually learning something I can use in everyday life,” she said.

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