By Claudia Mathis
BALDWINSVILLE — Teens at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are developing a strong relationship with God, due in part to the parish’s youth ministry program.
Joe Morra, a doctor of optometry and St. Elizabeth’s youth minister, heads the effort. Parishioners Orrin Stevens and Rick Phillips work along with him.
Morra, who has served in the position for the last three years, said that his interaction with the young people is very fulfilling and that his faith has been enhanced. “By working with the kids and discussing with them how Jesus can help in their lives, my faith has increased,” said Morra. “I’m giving Christ to them and they’re giving it back to me.”
The three men minister to 300 to 400 teens. Morra explained that they model their ministry after the process that was developed by the director of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, Bob Walters. Under the program, relational ministry – or person-to-person sharing of faith – fosters the teens’ personal relationship with Christ. The youth group provides an environment conducive to praying and living the faith.
Walters said that youth ministry is a process of evangelization. “Youth ministry leads them to Christ, and once they are there, forms them in their faith so that they can give it away,” he noted. “When they are giving it away, they are living their faith.”
Tenth grader Bridget Cleeton has felt the urge to do just that. She has served as a gift bearer at the monthly Youth Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. “Every time I do something to help out,” she said, “I feel like I want to do more.” She has been inspired to teach at the parish’s Vacation Bible School and to help serve refreshments after the regular Mass.
Morra said that the youths’ involvement in the many activities offered at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton has brought them closer to God.
In addition to the Youth Mass, the teens socialize during the Friday Youth Night and monthly Coffee House. They also participate in such activities such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and bowling.
During the Youth Mass, the teens serve as dialogue homilists along with Father John Finnegan, St. Elizabeth’s pastor, and Deacon Bill Dotterer. “Father Finnegan really promotes youth ministry,” said Morra.
Rachel Dominick, an eleventh grader, serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the Youth Mass. “Being a part of Mass, my feelings of being closer to God have increased,” Rachel said. She has also taught at Vacation Bible School for the last three years.
Rachel enjoys the Friday Youth Night along with 40 to 50 other teens. She said that it provides a place for her to hang out and feel safe.
“We’ve been blessed with a gym and a youth room for these activities,” said Morra. The teens enjoy playing pool, games, participating in karaoke and watching movies. In addition, Father Finnegan reads the upcoming Gospel passage for the next Mass and the teens discuss the meaning of it with him.
During the last year, St. Elizabeth’s youth ministry developed the Teen Work Teams fundraiser for the youth programs and to help parishioners who need assistance with the upkeep of their homes. For a donation of $50, four to five teens and a VIRTUS-trained adult will go to a parishioner’s home and work for up to two hours. Morra said that the teens helped to rake leaves last fall and the program has been well received by the parishioners.
St. Elizabeth’s Youth Team, which consists of the pastor, youth minister, director of religious education, CYO director and two students, was developed three years ago as a means for young people to become more involved in the parish. The team meets every two months to discuss topics on an agenda that is determined by the youth minister. The group brainstorms and develops programs.
A number of developments have sprung from these meetings. The first is a project called the “Huggers.” Before and after each Youth Mass, teens will hold a sign with the words “Free Hugs” written on it. Adults will then hug the teens that hold the signs. “The kids smile,” said Morra. “It reminds us that the Mass is a celebration.”
The teens also held a car wash for the parishioners, thanking them for their generosity for supporting the youth programs.
This summer, 20 teens from St. Elizabeth traveled to Buffalo as part of the Young Neighbors in Action, a Catholic social justice program.
In addition, 30 youth have formed a band called the Diehard Disciples. The teens, who sing and play various instruments, perform at the Youth Masses.
“Working with the kids has been absolutely inspiring,” said Morra. “The kids have a teen façade, but inwardly they are so hungry for Christ.”