Teens make time for God, others during the summer

By Peggy Moraczewski

Summer is almost here and families are considering a multitude of ways in which their schedules will change amidst vacations, family reunions, summer camps, jobs, etc. High school youth are encouraged to complement their summer plans with opportunities available through their parish youth minister. 
While summer lends itself to more social gatherings, it also opens a window for spiritual growth and the blessings of service and social justice projects. Chris Ochoa, director of formation and ministry at St. Dominic Savio Catholic High School in Austin, suggests, it is also a time to rest. 
“You have to draw away from time to time ... reflect and recall who you are, what you’re doing, especially for high school kids ... they’re still discovering who they are, figuring out what God is going to be asking them to do and what sort of gifts they have ... and they need that time for reflection,” he said.
Time with God
The silence of a church or adoration chapel, or sitting in a park surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, are ideal times to talk to and listen to God. Parish youth ministers from across the diocese shared samples of other activities offering great potential for teens to build their relationship with God through community.
The Bastrop/Lockhart Deanery will host their annual summer rally in mid-June at Ascension Parish in Bastrop. Youth ministers and student leaders are preparing a day of guest speakers, praise and worship, the sacrament of reconciliation and Mass. Teens will hear from seminarians, play games, enjoy water sports and more. The rally also serves as a celebration of the Class of 2016. Organizers anticipate a large number of participants.
The sold-out Steubenville Lone Star Conference in Dallas is drawing large numbers of teens from the Austin Diocese. Tracy Gomez, youth minister at St. Louis Parish in Waco, is excited to accompany students from their parish.
“This is an amazing conference with thousands of teens on fire with their love of Christ,” she said.
The parish also has a group of teens heading to Kansas later in the summer, to attend the Catholic Heart Work Camp, which focuses on service, fellowship and diving deeper into one’s relationship with the Lord. Additionally, all Waco area high school teens are invited to Friday Night Lights at St. Louis Parish Activity Center, each Friday beginning at 8 p.m. Youth will play soccer in June and volleyball in July. 
There will also be teens joining Pope Francis for World Youth Day (WYD) in Kraków, Poland, at the end of July. The diocesan youth pilgrimage to Poland includes 80 teens accompanied by 25 adult chaperones. Priscilla Ruiz, youth minister at Ascension Parish in Bastrop, said about 15 “very excited” teens will represent the parish at WYD.
Father Alberto Borruel, pastor of San José Parish in Austin, and Elizabeth Babin, will lead the pilgrimage from the Austin Diocese. As a college student, Babin attended WYD in Spain in 2011.
“I’m considering myself even luckier this time around to have the opportunity to help guide young adults through what is sure to be one of the most heart opening trips of their lives,” Babin said. 
Catholic teens from around the state will travel to Victoria for a retreat run by the National Evangelization Team (NET). St. Luke Parish in Temple has taken a contingent of students to NET retreats for more than 15 years. Doug Weisbruch, parish youth minister, said the retreat is a, “Catholic intensive camp. Students learn the value of daily prayer time. They ... learn about their dignity and identity as sons and daughters of God ... shaping them and enabling them to develop the habits of a disciple.”
Becoming disciples
Weisbruch sees the heart of St. Luke’s youth ministry as evangelization and discipleship, with the take-away from the NET retreats strengthening the program. For example, a Discipleship Team made up of juniors and seniors from the parish hosts monthly mini-retreats throughout the school year for the middle school students. 
“With the older kids, it makes all the talks about Scripture and prayer time relevant. They see you really can’t share God with other people if you’re not hanging out with him. It’s neat to see them embrace that and the light bulb goes on,” he said.
Ruiz said the planned summer activities are just the tip of the iceberg. 
“Our teens do all kinds of fabulous things,” she said excitedly. Bastrop has a large retirement community and teens help senior citizens with their lawns and landscaping. They also visit the sick and elderly, bringing the Eucharist to them. 
Ruiz credits peer mentoring for getting teens to the next level. She loves to see them coaching one another to stay accountable and to set goals. One of the biggest ways she has seen their faith grow is in their awareness that, “God is here for us and he is going to answer our prayers for us through community,” she said. 
She also said the parish youth ministry program is grateful for the enthusiastic parents and a supportive pastoral staff and adult parish community. 
“It has been such a blessing to be in a community that fosters spiritual growth for young people. I used to fear that so many of these kids would break away and leave the Catholic church, but I’m so inspired by them,” Ruiz said. 
Ochoa is also inspired by the teens he works with. 
“They really are great kids, with so many gifts and it’s always neat to see what God does with them all,” he said. 
Every parish youth ministry program has different summer opportunities, for more information ask the youth minister at your parish.