Teen voices

Do you have hope for the future of the Catholic Church in the United States? Judging by these young Catholic leaders, you should.

Read on to meet teens from across the country, from urban and rural dioceses and parishes. Learn how their faith inspires, challenges and supports them. And then say a prayer of thanksgiving for their presence in — and witness to ­­— their faith, and ask God to continue to support them.

Michelle Martin writes from Illinois.

What makes you excited about the Faith?

I love seeing people brought into the Church and just discovering the greatness that lies in our Catholic beliefs. It makes me excited to see others touched with love or see how they pretty much float after reconciliation. ... If there was one thing to be excited about as a Catholic, I would say it’s that we get the full presence of the body of Christ every week. That’s something worth being excited about.
— Abra Casey

So many people feel like they have lost faith in my generation, even I myself sometimes have! But with all the wonderful connections I’ve made this past year, with Catholic teens just from my diocese, it’s brought me knowledge that I’m not alone! ... I know that when we can realize we’re all in this together, we will begin a new, fiery generation that’ll love God and humanity with a passion.
— Magdalena Barajas

What makes me the most excited about Christ is when I pray that someone finds God, and I get to see my prayer answered.
— Gabrielle Bega

Last year I had the opportunity to go to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis; 23,000 other Catholic youth from across the nation joined together and praised God together. That is what excites me — knowing that there are that many other Catholic youth doing the same thing I am every Sunday. That’s pretty neat.
 — Spencer Tredik

My youth group, Christian music, service projects and Steubenville Conferences.
— Mary Kate Guidici

What do you love about the Church?

Abra Casey
Abra Casey
Age: 17, high school senior
Hometown: Helena, Montana
Diocese of Helena
Elle Bega
Gabrielle Bega
Age: 17, high school senior
Hometown: Kula, Maui, Hawaii
Diocese of Honolulu
Spencer Tredik
Spencer Tredik
Age: 16, high school junior
Hometown: Hamilton, Montana
Diocese of Helena, Montana
Magdalena Barajas
Magdalena Barajas
Age: 18, graduating class of 2014
Hometown: Valparaiso, Indiana
Diocese of Gary, Indiana
Mary Kate Guidici
Mary Kate Guidici
Age: 17, high school senior
Hometown: Orland Park, Illinois
Archdiocese of Chicago

I love my Church because I love how it’s formed my life. I can honestly say I would be an entirely different person if I had not been raised in the Catholic Church. The Church is a great community that teaches you how to grow into the best person and the true gift that all of us were divinely designed to be. There’s something special about the love that it radiates; the more you love God and others, the more love you can feel.
— Abra Casey

I love that the Church is her own being. The phrase of the Church as the “Bride of Christ” has always really hit me. The Catholic Church really has a great way of naming things, because a bride is the most perfect analogy to what we are supposed to be compatibly with Christ. ... I love that I can so closely relate to the Church and who she is. It connects me to the same fire of the Holy Spirit that I know is burning in other young people like me around the world.
— Magdalena Barajas

I love feeling so accepted by all the people around me.
— Gabrielle Bega

I love the unity of the Church. I love knowing that whenever I celebrate Mass, I’m celebrating it with other Catholics around the world.
— Spencer Tredik

I love the sense of community and support. When I am there, I feel that all the stress and craziness of life goes away. In church, I realize it is not about me — it’s all about God!
— Mary Kate Guidici

Do you share your faith experiences with Catholic and non-Catholic friends?

For friends who are not Catholic, I try not to shy away from sharing my experiences with them. ... As I’ve gotten through high school, I’ve also realized that I just don’t care if they agree with me or not. I am who I am, and it won’t change because of their opinion. I know I am on the right track, and I have high hopes they will join me!
— Magdalena Barajas

Sharing my faith experiences with people who aren’t Catholic is much more difficult and awkward, but I still try to share with them, too, because maybe it will help them in their lives.
— Spencer Tredik

Yes, I am never shy about my relationship with God, but I make sure it is more my actions than my words that tell people I am Catholic. If I live my life the way I should as a Catholic, I do not have to shove my beliefs in anyone’s face.
— Mary Kate Guidici

How do you live out your faith in day-to-day life?

The most important thing for me to live out my faith is daily prayer. I find that each day that I make prayer a priority is surrounded by more blessing and peace than a day where I made excuses or didn’t make time just for God.
— Abra Casey

I live my faith by saying a prayer every morning and night. Whenever something happens, good or bad, I always thank and praise God because I know he made it happen for a reason.
— Gabrielle Bega

Right now, I am suffering through a very challenging illness. I have learned to put my life in God’s hands, and he has given me a gift of always having a real smile on my face and the opportunity to help others. Although I would never choose this illness, it has taught me that God really shows his grace through suffering and he never abandons anyone.
— Mary Kate Guidici

What brings you closer to Christ?

teens pray
High school teens pray in Valparaiso, Ind. Courtesy photo

Prayer. That seems kind of simple to say, but it’s a challenge sometimes. I think by giving just an ounce of yourself completely to him, you will be returned with overwhelming blessing. Personally, staying on track in my prayer life and striving to follow the path laid out for me is all I can do to get closer to Christ. A simple invitation letting God into my life is the surest way to do it.
— Abra Casey

I’m brought closer to Christ through reconciliation the most. It’s like making up with a friend after you know you really screwed up.
— Magdalena Barajas

Singing has brought me closer to God. He gave me the gift of song, and I cherish that gift and use it whenever I can. Gabrielle Bega

Praying and the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation are what bring me closer to Christ.
— Spencer Tredik

teens conference
Teens pose for a group selfie at the Diocese of Gary, Ind., summer youth ministry conference in July. Courtesy photo

What about being Catholic is challenging to you?

I was afraid of some of the things I thought I’d need to change because I didn’t want to go against the Church, but I wanted to form my own thoughts. In the end, the more I learned about what Catholics actually believed, the more I fell in love with this faith. I realized I didn’t have to go against the Church, because in the end, it was everything I wanted anyway. Being Catholic is not a challenge that I get up to face every day, but I would say that sometimes it is hard to understand. It gets a little frustrating how people are ready to attack your faith when in reality they are misunderstanding and possibly falsely accusing. Defending something you love when the other side does not want to hear is definitely the hardest part.
— Abra Casey

teens pray
Zachary Glick of Highland, Ind., works on a summer service project. Courtesy photo

To me the most challenging part about being a Catholic is sharing Catholicism with those who aren’t Catholic. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes they have questions that I can’t answer.
— Spencer Tredik

I guess I feel afraid to be judged for my faith — and sometimes my lack of faith. But what it boils down to is that I’m more afraid of that same judgment coming from God, a judgment that matters. ... More and more I’ve come to realize that I can’t have all of the secular world and all of the holy world. Maybe that’s not the right way to phrase it, but it goes with the teaching that you can’t be lukewarm in your faith! You have to be or not be faithful to God. Feeling like I’m a lukewarm Catholic and like I am putting on a facade are the two biggest challenges of my faith.
— Magdalena Barajas

The most challenging part is trying to live in a world where so many people question religion and God and being Catholic.
— Gabrielle Bega

I attend a Catholic high school and I get very frustrated when people (teachers and students) talk a good game about being Catholic but then they act directly opposite of that and sometimes even teach or talk against basic Church teachings. It makes me sad that people do not even know what our Church stands for on issues and why. I also get frustrated when people say the Church needs to change its teaching because it’s behind the times. The Church teaches the truth, and that does not change.
— Mary Kate Guidici

How do the people in your youth group reinforce your faith?

One of our leaders constantly challenges us to “nothing less than sainthood” when we all meet for the Catholic Youth Coalition Board meetings and we are getting ready to throw an event, return to our parishes, or just go out to meet the world on fire with faith. This seems like a ridiculous challenge, but in reality, is it not what we are called to anyway? ... It’s a great way to remind myself that I must solely give my life to him before I may truly live.
— Abra Casey

The people in my youth group reinforce my faith by sharing their different life stories and stages. We’re all a mixed group, some feeling lost or lonely, but all having faith that God can make it better. Going to youth group and just letting the worry about what’s going on outside of my own life and hearing the other kids’ stories helps me to know God is with me, and with them too!
— Magdalena Barajas

Seeing some of my peers come into youth group without much faith leave with a stronger faith in God and a desire to talk about him always reminds me of how great our God is. 
— Gabrielle Bega

As cool as it is to know that there are a bunch of people around the globe who are Catholic too, it’s also very good to have people who you can build a relationship with and who you can talk to every day.
— Spencer Tredik

They have been my biggest support system throughout my illness. They cheer me up. They pray with me and for me. They encourage me.
— Mary Kate Guidici

Related Reading: Youth Ministries building for the future