By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
LONG GROVE — Over two days last month, a diverse group of Catholics got together at St. Ann Parish to talk about the joys and challenges in their walk with Christ. They also picked up a few tips for living out the faith more fully.
Representatives from all six deaneries participated in FORUM 2018, held Feb. 17-18. At least one-third of the participants were teenagers, with parents and parish faith formation leaders rounding out the group. “Parents are the most influential in how their young people practice their faith life, but we rarely have an opportunity to bring together parents and young people to talk about matters of faith,” said Don Boucher, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation.
The event came at a particularly difficult time for the people of St. Ann Parish, who were dealing with the death of one of their youths, SJ Madden. The teen died as a result of a car accident a few days before FORUM. “St. Ann Parish was very welcoming and hospitable in light of very difficult circumstances,” said Pat Sheil, director of religious education for St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt.
Mike Patin, a former high school teacher and coach from Louisiana who now offers faith presentations around the world, led FORUM. He shared stories from his own life and encouraged the crowd to share their own thoughts and stories.
Participants talked about their joys and struggles as Catholics. Utilizing Mentimeter, a web-based audience interaction tool, they enteredtheir thoughts by demographic: youths, parents or ministry leaders. With this information, Boucher observed that youths and adults experience the same stresses, challenges and joys; they just experience them in a different way. “They’re more alike than they are different. That commonality should be an asset we can really tap into and build on.”
Different groups agreed that good communication is an asset to parishes. Participants identified caring clergy and staff as huge assets to parish life. On a personal level, they identified family involvement as essential to building a strong faith life. Parish groups discussed challenges and joys on their own.
While the Faith Formation Office is in the process of analyzing this information and looking for themes, Patin was pleasantly surprised by the teens’ positive attitude about what their parishes are doing. “We expected to hear the complaints first. That shocked us,” Patin said. He was also impressed by their candor. “For them to say: ‘This is my life; this is where I find God and this is where it’s made a difference?’ I appreciated them going there.”
Patin offered some faith-building tips and evangelization tools. Testimonies, he said, can be powerful tools in engaging others in the faith. He shared a template for creating one: identify what life was like before encountering Jesus, describe the encounter, and explain how life has changed post-encounter.
Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee member Donna Diggs, a high school junior from Davenport, said she especially appreciated the opportunity to share her faith journey. “Early Saturday I was able to give a witness talk about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come with the struggles I have been presented. Although it was nerve-racking, I could tell that it had really made an impact on my audience.”
As participants prepared for Mass on Sunday morning, Patin asked what prayer meant to them. Most identified relationship-building with God and self-reflection as major prayer motivators. The group also suggested challenges, such as a tendency to ramble on and a fear of praying in public. Patin noted that doubts can discourage people from praying. “That voice is not of God,” Patin told the group. He offered an acronym — PRAY — for personal prayer: Praise, Reconcile, Ask and Yield (listen).
Bishop Thomas Zinkula spent most of his weekend at St. Ann’s. He sat in on forum sessions, celebrated Mass and spent time with parishioners. He took the time “to just hang out,” Boucher said. “He listened, participated, interacted and engaged with everyone, just kind of soaked it in …. I talked to him after and he said he really loved being there. He likes hanging out and getting to know people, like he did when he was a parish priest.”
Sheil said the bishop “really spent quality time listening to the teens as individuals, and recognizing their importance in our church.” And Patin, “was able to really pick up on the pulse of youths and what is going on in their lives.”
Patin said his goal was to “take people on a journey to really help them reflect on their faith story and consider, ‘How can I live more as a disciple based on my experience this weekend? What resources to I need in order to do that?’”