“Go and make disciples of all nations!”
Pope Francis reflected on these words of Jesus when he celebrated Mass at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro recently. The Pope proclaimed to the youth that “with these words, Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission! Today, in the light of the word of God that we have heard, what is the Lord saying to us? Three simple ideas: Go, do not be afraid, and serve.”
On our recent visit to the mission diocese of Savannah, Georgia, we met a group of young people who are living out what Pope Francis asked of all the youth. We had the chance to visit St. Teresa’s Church in Albany, Georgia; also known as Iglesia de Santa Teresa de Avila.
Saint Teresa's Church Hispanic Youth Group.
When we arrived, the two Youth Ministers of the Hispanic Youth Group, Juan Carlos and Marisol Gaytan, were praying with the youth and sharing a lesson. We then had the chance to meet with the 15 youth who were gathered there for their biweekly meeting. All of the young people introduced themselves; they ranged from age 7 to 17, and they went to many different schools. What they shared in common was a love of Jesus and a desire to be with other youth who share their Catholic faith.
The Hispanic Youth Ministry at St. Teresa’s is different from the Anglo Youth Group. As the young people explained, they want to talk with their friends in English and study in English; but they want to pray in Spanish. That is how they learned to pray, and where their heart feels closest to God. The youth shared with us what they love most about the Youth Ministry: some said it was the social activities, others said it was the retreats, while others said it was the prayer time that they loved best. But they all said that they loved to come to a place where they always felt welcome and could talk with each other about their faith, which they often couldn’t do with their friends at school.
Husband and wife team, Juan and Marisol lead the youth group.
Juan Carlos and his wife Marisol are themselves an inspiration to the Youth Ministry. Three years ago, the pastor asked them to lead the Hispanic Youth Ministry at the parish, and they said they had to really pray about it. They said Yes to this call, even though they are busy with a family of their own; they have three little girls under the age of 3, and another baby on the way. Soon Juan Carlos and Marisol will hand over the Hispanic Youth Ministry to another couple, so that they can instead help run the church ministry for married couples. Such amazing witness and sharing of their time and gifts with their church!
One of the great things about the Hispanic Youth Ministry at St. Teresa’s was the diversity of ages. Ulises, who as a junior in high school was the oldest teen there that evening, said he likes to mentor the younger children. “I have a leadership role, so I feel responsible to lead in the right direction, and to take the younger kids under my wing. When they ask me questions, this inspires me to become stronger in my own faith.”
Ulises mentors younger group members. "When they ask me questions, this inspires me to become stronger in my own faith."
We talked to some of the girls who participated in the Quinceañeras Retreat. Catholic Extension helps support this retreat for young girls across the diocese. Often families can’t afford to have their daughters go; or they have issues with transportation. For those who are not familiar with what a Quinceañera is, it is traditional in the Hispanic culture to celebrate a young girl’s fifteenth birthday. There is a Mass to celebrate, followed by a party. It is to celebrate the passage from a girl to a young woman. The diocese offers a retreat, to help young girls learn more about their faith and what it means to be a young woman in the Catholic Church. There is also a chance for the girl’s parents to participate, so that they can share with their daughter what their own hopes are for her.
All of these young people were an inspiration to us! It was so wonderful to see that they are growing in their faith, and have adults who care enough about them to help them on their faith journey. These young people represent the hope for the future of our Church. As Pope Francis said at the end of his homily at World Youth Day, “Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!”
Young women were able to attend the Quinceañeras Retreat with help from Catholic Extension donors.
- Terry Witherell, Director of Mission, Catholic Extension