Catholic youth leaders from N.O. go to Orlando

nyccm1    The young church needs plenty of tender, loving care, and so do those who minister to the young church. That’s why a contingent of youth ministers from the Archdiocese of New Orleans joined hundreds of their colleagues from across the country and around the world at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry Nov. 29-Dec. 1.
    John Smestad Jr., director of the CYO/Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office, said more than 30 youth ministers from across the archdiocese attended the Orlando conference, themed “Living in the Light.”
     “I was pleased with the numbers who came to learn, to network and for formation and prayer,” he said.
    Those who attended were quite pleased themselves.
    “It’s good to be among peers, among people who think like you,” said Ansel Augustine, associate director of the CYO and coordinator of Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry. “It enhances our skills to involve youth in the Church. … It affirms what we do. A lot of people think we are baby-sitters. Youth ministers are far more than baby-sitters; they are the people who support parents in forming the faith of young Catholics.”
    Augustine is also on the board of directors of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, which hosts the annual conference. Featured at the 2012 event were keynote speakers ValLimar Jansen, Jack Jezreel, Msgr. Ray East and Sister Anne Bryan Smollin.
Varied topics

nyccm3    Workshops covered many areas, including evangelization, technology, spirituality, family ministry, athletics and more. Augustine presented a session on multicultural ministry.
    Loretta Salomon of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University was enthusiastic about the gathering.
    “I have gotten so much knowledge about things I never knew,” she said, such as attracting and retaining volunteers.
    The conference, with 2,500 attendees, attracted veteran youth ministers such as Beth Joubert of St. Matthew the Apostle in River Ridge and newcomers such as Claire Gallagher of St. Clement of Rome in Metairie.
    “It rejuvenates you and it is so affirming about what we do – and so necessary,” Joubert said. “We are in the middle of it at home, so it’s good to get away to get refreshment.”
    Gallagher, who has been serving as youth minister at St. Clement of Rome for five months and was attending her first NCCYM, gave rave reviews.
     “As a new youth minister, it was very much an affirmation of why I am doing what I’m doing,” she said. “We all have something in common (ministering to the young people of the church). It has been very motivating.”
    Monique Turner, who attended the conference with fellow youth ministry volunteer Shannon Stanley of Corpus Christi-Epiphany, said she appreciated networking with others. “It was a good way to enrich ourselves,” she said, adding that she enjoyed the workshops and the conference resource expo. “We can stand proud with what we already have,” she said, as well as find resources to support their youth ministry.
    Smestad hosted a breakfast Dec. 1 for the New Orleans youth ministers as a thanks for their commitment to serve archdiocesan youth. Although youth ministers are integral to parish life, he said, ministering to the young church is the job of all of the faithful.  
    “Just like Catholic education, even if you don’t have a child that age, you need to care about the ministry,” he said.  “It affects the good of the church.” It requires, he added, the proper parish resources and personnel.
    Approximately 50 to 60 parishes in the archdiocese have youth programs, which give teens time to connect with peers and become involved in parish life.
    “If they don’t learn how to connect with the parish when they are young,” Smestad said, “they become the adults who say they don’t know how to be a part of things.” Youth ministry, he said, engages young people with their faith community. They will grow into adulthood as people of faith who understand the importance of parish life.
    Any youth ministry, he added, should be well-rounded, based on the U.S. bishops’ document “Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry.” According to the 1997 document, youth ministry at its best is characterized by five hallmarks: discipleship, connection, giftedness and growth, comprehensiveness, and entire parish involvement.
    Smestad said the selection of workshops at the Orlando conference reflected that well-rounded approach, covering a broad spectrum. “The workshops feed what we need,” he said. And what youth ministry needs, he added, is the support of the whole parish and the whole church.
    As Blessed John Paul II said on World Youth Day 1987: “As Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus, so the church must become the traveling companion of young people.”
    Karen Baker can be reached at kbaker@clarionherald.org.
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