Engaging 13- to 22-year-olds demands creativity

   How do you get high school juniors to see the sacrament of confirmation not as a graduation from faith, but as a thrilling new chapter in their lives as Catholic young adults?

   That was one of the heady questions addressed by a group of local Catholic educators charged with looking at ways to more effectively engage Catholics between the ages of 13 and 22.
   “Just because we’re doing religious education doesn’t mean it has to be (in) a classroom,” said Doug Triche, assistant principal at St. Charles Catholic High in LaPlace, addressing colleagues at Loyola’s Summer Institute for Catholic Educational Leadership. “It’s a community that they’re joining. We find that those who do best with staying with the church are those who have invested themselves through service to various ministries,” Triche said.
   How well a parish “does” confirmation prep – the period of high school catechesis that varies in duration and approach from parish to parish – plays a key role in a young person’s decision to remain observant after the sacrament, the educators said. An effective model, they said, introduces young people to ministries that match up with their interests during the period of preparation, with clergy, adult leaders and parent volunteers doing their part by spotting special talents in the group and personally inviting teens to share them with their peers.
   “If they’re in the band, let them play a couple of songs and pray together (during confirmation prep). This will show them they can be who they are in the church,” said Nilda Rivera, a Spanish teacher at Jesuit High, adding that parish leaders also could recruit teens for various church roles, such as readers or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
   “If they can be themselves in the church, it’s contagious!” Rivera said.

Create small prayer groups

   The educators said CLCs – or “Christian Life Communities” of six to 10 individuals who meet regularly to pray, reflect and share their faith with one another – could easily be piloted in both confirmation prep and CCD settings. Once launched, these prayer groups of young Catholics could continue after confirmation under the auspices of the parish’s youth and young-adult programs.
   Other tips to engage teens and young adults included:
   • Using social media, or “the language” of today’s teens and young adults, more effectively.
   • Better coordination between high school activities and religious education programs. Due to conflicts with athletics and other school events, some parishes must conduct two tracks of confirmation prep. To reduce stress, pastors, coaches and DREs could collaborate on scheduling and offer more activities combining faith and recreation, such as making the sacrament of reconciliation available and celebrating a team Mass before games.
    • Parish catechetical leaders need to be more aware of the nervousness some teenagers feel as they enter confirmation prep and encounter teachers and peers whom they either do not know, or have not interacted with since elementary school. From the very first class, the walls between “the CCD kids” and “the Catholic school kids” can be taken down by eagle-eyed leaders via icebreakers and group projects.
   • Catholic high schools could look for ways to integrate faith into all subjects, not just religion class. For example, the beauty of God’s creation can be addressed in classes such as science, physics and math. Triche, who has spoken on the benefits of cross-curriculum religious education at meetings of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), said teachers who are uncomfortable about diving into this minimally could invite their students to take a couple of minutes of class time to reflect on how the day’s study topic pertained to their faith.
   During the discussion on integrating faith across the curriculum, Lori Fasone, a Jesuit High science teacher, said she was looking forward to an environmental science textbook from the International Jesuit Ecology Project that will merge hard science with Catholic spirituality and ethics. Fasone said textbooks such as these will be a boon for teachers who have reservations about their expertise in Catholic theology.
   “The more we see resources like this, the less our teachers will be intimidated,” Fasone said. “That’s what I’ve longed for in all my years of teaching science – that resource that makes me feel comfortable about taking that step into theology without feeling like I’m going to make a mistake and my theology department is going to freak out!”
   Beth Donze can be reached at bdonze@clarionherald.org.

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