Tioga teens thrive on youth ministry - Catholic Courier

Tioga teens thrive on youth ministry

OWEGO — John Martinez had firmly decided, despite the strong involvement of his older brother Mike, that youth ministry wasn’t his cup of tea. In fact, the only reason he began attending youth group at all was because his parents insisted.

Yet once he got a taste of how socially and spiritually fulfilling the youth events are at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, John changed his tune in a hurry.

"I just couldn’t stop going," said John, 16, who currently serves as youth representative on the parish pastoral council, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, catechist and participant in many additional activities.

"Pretty much everything that comes out, I beg my parents to go to," he remarked.

For Audi Hamilton, local youth ministry and being on the Diocesan Youth Committee are so enjoyable that she said it’s "like an addiction" — a very positive one.

"I like meeting new people and having different experiences. It’s so amazing," said Audi, 15.

Many other youths in Tioga County share John and Audi’s passion. They’re plenty busy, too, thanks to the tremendous ongoing activity level of senior- and junior-high youth groups in the five Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick churches: St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; St. Patrick, Owego; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. James, Waverly; and St. Francis, Catatonk.

More than 100 young people overall are involved, according to Kathy Hamilton, the parishes’ youth-ministry coordinator and mother of Audi. These numbers include 23 who serve as faith-formation catechists; many who take part in liturgical ministry; and others who also involve themselves in such community-service projects as Crop Walk, coat and gift collections for the poor, and soup-kitchen volunteerism.

Hamilton said many of the activities take place at individual worship sites, but that the five churches join up at least once per month for a combined event.

"We’re trying to build one faith community, one faith family," she said.

Her daughter has been busy of late with two highly attended projects. On Jan. 23-24, 39 teens and 11 adults took part in a 24-hour food fast that raised $1,885.72 for Catholic Relief Services and also benefitted local charities. And currently, the Living Stations of the Cross troupe is just beginning its Lenten schedule. The production currently involves 43 cast and crew members, as well as many adult volunteers.

The annual food fast was begun 12 years ago under Sue White, youth minister at St. Margaret Mary in Apalachin. Meanwhile, Living Stations — currently directed by White’s husband, Terry — originated at that church way back in 1976. Presentations take place every Lenten Friday with an itinerary that has expanded beyond Tioga County over the years, in such diverse settings as Sacred Heart Cathedral and Elmira Correctional Facility.

Hamilton and White said Living Stations is ideal in that it covers every part of youth ministry — social, catechesis, prayer, sacrifice, service. Youths from many school districts and faiths take part; in fact, White observed that several Living Stations participants are not Catholic and/or regular church-goers but nonetheless thrive on their involvement.

What’s the big draw for this lengthy menu of youth-ministry opportunities?

"I really enjoy being able to make new friends — especially kids who have the same faith, because church has been really important to me most of my life," said Josh Raftis, 15.

Audi added that her Catholic faith occasionally gets challenged by her high-school peers, so she appreciates an environment where that doesn’t happen.

"I’m a lot more myself in youth group, just more comfortable," John agreed. "I’ve known people at school longer, but I got to know (Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick youths) better because we go on retreats."

"Youth ministry allows them to be themselves. We accept them no matter who they are," Hamilton said.

She and White also observed that the success of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s youth ministry involves more than child participation.

"Our parish leadership does support anything we do. It’s tremendous support," Hamilton said.

White added that the parental backing is crucial, especially because many activities require driving long distances over a largely rural area.

"I could have all the programs in the world, but it wouldn’t matter if (the parents) didn’t get them there," White remarked.

Living Stations schedule
Here are the dates, times and locations for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s 2009 presentations of Living Stations of the Cross:

* Friday, Feb. 27 — 7 p.m., Broome Developmental Center, Binghamton

* Friday, March 6 — 7 p.m., Immaculate Conception Church, Ithaca

* Friday, March 13 — 7 p.m., St. Ambrose Church, Endicott

* Friday, March 20 — 7 p.m., Lourdes Hospital, Binghamton

* Friday, March 27 — 7 p.m., St. Joseph Church, Deposit

* Friday, April 3 — 7 p.m., St. James Church, Waverly

* Friday, April 10 — 7:30 p.m., St. Margaret Mary Church, Apalachin

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