I was recently having a discussion with my next-door-neighbor’s daughter. This sweet, fourteen year-old girl was getting ready for a trip to New York City. She wasn’t going to visit, nor to see the sights. She was going to work in a soup kitchen for the poor.
I was impressed with the enthusiasm she had for the task. She was traveling with her Presbyterian Church’s youth group to share her time, faith and her church’s mission. It encouraged me to look at the ways the Catholic youth in our parishes could serve the community.
As a whole, the Catholic Church is involved in everything from hospitals, to orphanages, food centers for the poor and a variety of other charities As catechists we have the opportunity to help our students to understand and define the term community. There are the communities of our classroom, the Church community and the community of the world. Each of these communities needs our time, service and attention.
1) Community of our classroom. In our classrooms our students can be taught to pray together, to support each other and to share their thoughts.
Other ideas to increase the feeling of community can be the celebrating of birthdays, awards or special recognition for in-class accomplishments. The youth group at our parish takes the students to movies that have positive Christian themes such as: The Nativity, The Passion and St. Therese. Having the class work together on fund raisers, problem solving, or support activities (i.e. a breakfast for seniors) can also improve the classroom community.
2) The Church community. As with our classroom communities, the key to involving our students in the Church community is to understand their relevance to it and in it. Teachers modeling good community behavior by teaching the faith, lecturing, assisting in parish activities and/or serving on parish council can be invaluable. Helping our students to recognize ways that they could be involved is also vital. Encouraging them to be altar servers, work in parish fund raisers, and serve others in their church communities will connect them to that community and to their faith. The Bible reminds us that, “Faith without works is dead.” We need to reinforce this value in our lives and the lives of our students.
3) The community of the world. As with my neighbor, we need to foster an attitude of service in the world. Recognizing and celebrating existing Catholic outreach programs can help our young people to see how the Catholic Church is already helping in the world. Working in food cupboards, joining prayer groups and novenas, or raising money for the children in Catholic orphanages encourages a sense of belonging in the world, while reinforcing our ability to have an affect on that world.
Helping our students to be aware of the needs of others around them, whether in the classroom, their churches or in the world will connect them to their communities and help them to become an integral part of the mission of the Catholic Church.
Mary Lou Rosien is a wife, mother to seven children and is the author of, Managing Stress with the Help of Your Catholic Faith (OSV Publishing, 2006).
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