Whether it’s walking through a corn maze, playing laser tag or simulating the plight of a homeless person, a diverse set of activities has been available recently for young Catholics in northwest Monroe County.
And they’re responding, with strong multiparish representation at events thanks to a growing emphasis on parish collaboration.
For example, 57 youths attended an outing Sept. 23 at Laser Quest in Greece; 39 took part in Camp Out to Help the Homeless Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Greece’s St. Lawrence Church; and 70 got together Oct. 16 at Zarpentine Farms in Hilton. These three activities — all conducted within a few weeks of each other — drew people from such parishes as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Lawrence, St. Mark, Our Mother of Sorrows and St. John the Evangelist, all in Greece; and Holy Cross in Rochester.
The many young people who flocked to Zarpentine Farms basked in the glory of a warm autumn afternoon, with participants receiving instruction about the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit while also enjoying a hike through a giant corn maze. Two weekends earlier, the emphasis was on homelessness during an overnight event at St. Lawrence. Youths experienced what it’s like to be without a home by sleeping in tents or self-made cardboard shelters; they also received a visit from Sister Grace Miller, RSM, longtime director of the House of Mercy in Rochester, who shared her stories of working with the homeless. House of Mercy also was the focus of fundraising efforts in the days and weeks prior to the camp-out, with participants raising more than $3,000.
Youth from Greece area churches enter the corn maze at Hilton’s Zarpentine Farms Oct. 16.
Whereas spirituality was stressed at the corn maze and service was the focus at the camp-out, Greece-area parishes also took time out for some plain old fun thanks to the Sept. 23 laser-tag outing. Donna Jacobi, youth minister at Holy Cross Parish — which sent participants to all three events — said the wide mix of offerings has been a nice complement to her parish’s regular youth-group meetings.
Jacobi and Donna Gray, youth minister at St. Lawrence, noted that area Catholic churches have come together frequently in recent years. For instance, Gray said, western Monroe County parishes have attended the past three National Catholic Youth Conferences as a combined group known as "West Side Story." Gray added that some events involving her parish also have drawn young people from the towns of Chili (St. Pius Tenth) and Hamlin (St. Elizabeth Ann Seton).
Other examples of ongoing collaboration are the two-week summer religious-education program at St. Charles, which is open to other area parishes; and the Day of Goodness each spring during which youths perform service projects in the community and then gather for dinner to share their experiences.
Although these multiparish efforts are nothing new, Jacobi acknowledged that they may be reaching new heights in terms of frequency and participation levels.
"This is phenomenal," Jacobi said. "I think it’s just catching on."
"There’s a lot of momentum going," agreed Jill Kinsella, youth minister at St. Charles.
The large gatherings get a thumbs-up from Jack Little, a youth-group member at Holy Cross.
"It’s nice to meet new people and fun to get together," the 16-year-old said while taking part in the corn maze event, noting that he saw youths that day from other parishes whom he recognized from past retreats. Jack added that he was enthusiastic about traveling to St. Lawrence for Camp Out to Help the Homeless; in fact, he personally raised $316 in the four days prior to the event.
Kinsella said she sees "a huge advantage" to combining activities with other parishes. She pointed out that by getting to know more peers, youths are more likely to make connections with each other away from church — particularly at school — and come to appreciate that they’re far from alone in practicing their faith.
"They think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s not just me with my youth group at my parish. I remember you from Zarpentine Farms and laser tag.’ That’s very important, I think," Kinsella said.
"The events have always been successful not only because of the number of kids that attend, but because of the relationships and friendships that develop and continue throughout their high-school years," Gray added.
Jacobi, Gray and Kinsella all stressed the importance of communication among parish youth leaders in order to ensure even more joint efforts.
"I am excited about this year, as we seem to have many youth ministers who really want to work together," Kinsella said.
"They’re wonderful," Jacobi said of her fellow youth ministers. "We all get along."