Teens in church want adults to give them some credit

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Teenaged Catholics want to contribute to the church and the world, to be seen as having value now in addition to potential for the future and to have fun while they live their faith.

Those were among the messages expressed by about 50 teenagers who participated in “Your Voice Counts,” a Feb. 27 meeting for young leaders at the archdiocese’s Cardinal Meyer Center, 3525 S. Lake Park Ave.

The meeting was organized as part of the response to the Strategic Pastoral Plan released early this year. The plan calls for a year focusing upon young people to begin in July.

The year —the first of four called for in the new Strategic Pastoral Plan — will address young people ages 13-18 and those 18-24. The Feb. 27 meeting was for the younger group; upcoming events will be held to get the input of people 18-24.

The first thing the group decided is that they want to be called “teens,” not “youth” or “young men and women.” So “teens” it will be, said Lissette Castaneda, the youth ministry coordinator for St. Sylvester Parish, who facilitated the discussion.

Msgr. Richard Hynes, the director of the Department of Parish Life and Formation, estimated that there are 600,000 teens in the archdiocese and they are wildly diverse. “They are multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-everything,” he said. “And they are comfortable with that.”

The teens at the meeting, most of whom are active in parish youth groups or campus ministry, divided into groups to answer a series of questions.

One question asked what three things they would tell Cardinal George about themselves and their peer group. The teens said they want adults to give them some credit.

“Not all teens do drugs,” was the first response, given by Maggie Naughton of St. Germaine Parish, speaking for one of the groups.

Later, she said that when she sees people look askance at teens in church, she wants to say, “I’m just here to pray. Leave me alone. I’m not that bad. That a person might have purple hair doesn’t mean they don’t love God.”

Throughout the afternoon, the teens said they often felt marginalized and looked down upon in church, especially if they chose to wear styles that aren’t as common among older people.

But they face many of the same challenges when it comes to living their faith, said Roldan Alegre of Our Lady of Mercy Parish.

“It’s hard finding time to keep Christ a part of your life,” said Alegre, especially with the constant exposure to media that teens live with. “It’s hard seeing the face of Christ when you’re just taking the bus to school. It’s hard to share your faith with your peers.”

Bridget Kobiernicki, a student at Mother McAuley High School, said that many teens are “too cool for church” and those that are active participants don’t always want to admit it. But they might be more willing if they were able to participate more.

In terms of what they want, the teens suggested that priests try to help them see how the liturgy and Scriptures relate to their lives.

“We want the priests to understand that their homilies don’t always makes sense to us, Kobiernicki said.

“So, John went into the desert and ate locusts and honey,” Castaneda said. “Nobody you know does that. So you want them to make it more relatable to your lives.”

They also want “teen Masses” where teens read and serve as extraordinary ministers of Communion, and to serve in those roles more often at regular Masses.

Many teens said they would welcome the opportunity to serve, both locally and on service or mission trips, and to socialize with other teens. Social activities and sports would be a good way to draw in teens who are not currently active in the church, they said.

“In our youth group, it’s basically the same type of people,” said Noelle Trainor, speaking for another group. “We’d like our youth group to draw all types of people.”