Many parents drawn to the Faith through their children

Mark Joseph knows God can speak to a parent, even while touching the hearts of thousands of teens at a youth conference. The faith experience Joseph had while chaperoning a Steubenville Conference in 2006 helped bring him deeper into the Catholic Church and enabled him to better share his faith with his own children.

“There is nothing like seeing 2,200 kids on fire for the Lord,” said Joseph, who is now executive director of Christian outreach for Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, the organization responsible for putting on the Steubenville Conferences. “It is an amazing experience. I felt strongly then, I feel strongly now ... that the speakers on that stage speak as much to me as a parent and adult as they do the kids.”

Passing it on

In an era when many busy parents don’t feel they know the Catholic faith well — or how to incorporate it into family life — some like Joseph are finding inspiration in what their children are learning.

As teens experience Christ through youth programs and conferences, they are sharing what they’re learning with their parents, who may be hearing it for the first time. And parents seeking to deepen their faith and pass it onto their children are finding opportunities to learn and serve together with other members of their parishes.

Students rejoice at a conference in Springfield, Mo., in 2012. Courtesy photo

While serving young people, youth ministry organizations are also reaching out to parents, both so they can support their kids and develop their own faith.

“In a certain way, if we as the Catholic Church want our young people to not only come alive in faith but maintain and grow in it, we have to be attentive to the family situations that they’re going back to and doing what we can to help that family unit to come to faith,” said Mark Berchem, founder and executive director of National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries, a West St. Paul, Minnesota-based ministry that sends young adult teams around the country to offer retreats for middle-schoolers.

These young missionaries, who learn in the ministry about their faith and how to share it, find opportunities with their own families and the families who host them, he said. “It’s more like being a leaven, sharing your faith story, encouraging parents to be active, to take a little bit of spiritual leadership in the family and, where appropriate, get involved at the parish.”

Programs to help

Since many parents stop receiving religious education at confirmation, some feel they lack the knowledge or tools to pass on the Faith, said Michael Theisen, director of membership services for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for and supports Catholic youth ministry. “If the Church will accompany the parents along this journey and walk with them, then it becomes a whole different scenario,” Theisen said.

When parents are engaged and interested in learning about the Faith, they want to seek answers, Theisen said. “What we’re learning is parents really are yearning to have their children connect more deeply with the Faith.”

Parents can learn more about the Faith and gain skills to connect it with their families’ lives through the Strong Catholic Families (SCF) initiative, which was launched four years ago by NFCYM and other family and educational organizations, and now is used in 70 U.S. and Canadian dioceses.

Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park, Ill., introduced SCF more than two years ago and is one of 40 parishes in the Chicago archdiocese now implementing the program. The parish has involved families in service projects as well as in talks and other activities, said Colleen Walery, parish director of religious education.

She said she hopes the initiative, considered a way of life rather than a program, will encourage families to become involved in liturgies and parish activities and use it in passing on the Faith to their children.

“This isn’t about filling our needs and filling our pews,” Walery said. “It’s about ‘Where are the young families and what kind of help do they expect from their faith community, teaching people to pray with kids?’”

Sparking their faith

Candace (left), Christy and Alex McNeely pose at the Easter Vigil on April 19. Courtesy photo

Another help for parents, Life Teen offers a retreat to help them grow in their personal faith, said Randy Raus, president and CEO of the ministry, launched in Mesa, Arizona, which offers youth programs in roughly 1,700 parishes. “It’s a real powerful experience for them,” he said. “In some cases, it’s like a first encounter — a real first connection to faith that they’ve had in years.”

The retreat is part of its parish ministry for parents of youth in Life Teen’s middle- and high-school programs. It’s important to help parents understand what’s happening in their teens’ lives, Raus said. “We found we can go a lot further with the parents coming alive in their faith than having the teen grow in their faith in a separate way.”

In part to reach out to parents whose kids attend one of its 20 conferences held throughout the country each year, Steubenville Conferences plans to introduce tools for teens and parents to help them delve deeper into conference topics before and after the event, Joseph said.

“We want to be doing everything we can to bring people back into the Church, including the parents of the kids we serve, and if we can be successful by the grace of God in bringing some of those parents back, then they’re going to do nothing but encourage their additional children,” Joseph said.

Igniting parents’ faith through involvement with their kids “really has a ripple effect on the entire parish,” Raus said. “You have these families and adults getting more active in their faith.”

Susan Klemond writes from Minnesota.