Fr. Steve Dos Santos, C.PP.S.
Being vocation director means I get to attend/participate in a variety of events/activities over the course of the year. One of those activities this summer was a week as the chaplain at Catholic Youth Summer Camp (CYSC) in Centerburg, Ohio. It is one of a number of programs that are available for summertime evangelization. The Steubenville Youth Conference and Catholic Familyland are two others that are common here in Ohio.
As the chaplain at CYSC, I spent the week at camp, celebrating Mass, hearing Confessions, chatting with campers and counselors, and just hanging out. The camp is a great balance of high-adventure activities (rock climbing, paintball, zip lining over the lake, archery tag, etc.) and high-adventure faith (daily Mass, training in lectio divina, adoration, faith sharing, etc). The camp and the campers generally put the same energy into the faith elements as they do the high-adventure activities.
As I greeted families on the first day of camp, they were excited to know that a priest would be at camp the whole week. It wasn’t only the parents; the campers themselves were glad to have a priest with them at camp. It was a great opportunity for ministry, but also a great opportunity to let them get to know me through our everyday interactions. Waiting in line together or playing games was a time where they could get a glimpse of Father away from the altar. There were teens there who were not as enthused as others, which is normal. There is always a range, but camp was an awesome reminder that there are plenty of teens out there who love Jesus and are on fire for the Church.
The “Nones” (people who do not identify with any religious group) and those who are minimally engaged have gotten so much attention in the news that I think it’s easy to forget that there are a bunch of young people who want to be challenged and engaged by the faith. It’s important to ensure that we are actually engaging and challenging them. They are the ones who will bring life and energy to our parish, or campus ministry. They are also the ones who the Lord may be calling to be a priest, brother or sister.
These teens who strive for more are sometimes kept on the margins of our programming out of fear that they will scare off the other youth with their intensity. My experience of camp is the exact opposite. Energy and enthusiasm are infectious; and their desire for holiness encourages their friends to also strive. Their energy needs to be directed, and they most likely need a little formation in order to have the greatest impact, but they have the potential to impact our parishes in a positive way.
One way to do that is to help them unpack the event. As our young people return from events like CYSC, a Steubenville conference, or a mission trip, it helps if we make time to listen to their stories. Let them tell us about their experiences and ask them questions if they need some prompting. Find out what impacted them the most or how they feel the Lord is calling them to grow/change because of it.
It’s so easy to believe that young people aren’t interested in Church. While that may be true for many, it’s not true for all. The experience at camp reminded me that the ones with energy to evangelize are out there and are numerous. Our challenge is to engage them in a way that helps direct their energy without putting out their fire.