As the Year of Faith winds down — it ends Nov. 24 — there are numerous ways that young people can learn more about their faith and put that faith into practice.
Adventure and scouting groups, as well as a marching band, have all done so this year. And a World Mission Sunday conference is a family-based way to learn more about the faith.
Catholic Cub Scouts in the first and second grades can work with their parents on the "Light of Christ" emblem, which focuses on learning about Jesus, baptism, reconciliation and the Eucharist. Older Cub Scouts can earn the Parvuli Dei (Children of God) emblem, in which they learn more about God and how they can use their gifts to serve God.
When they move up into Boy Scouts, they have the opportunity to work with a trained religious-emblems counselor to earn the Ad Altare Dei (To the Altar of God) badge, in which they learn more about the seven sacraments. Boy Scouts in high school can earn the "Pope Pius XII" emblem, which focuses on careers and religious vocations.
To commemorate this Year of Faith, the Buffalo, N.Y., Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting has created a special "Year of Faith" patch that all members of the Boy Scouts, as well as Girl Scouts, Campfire Girls and adult leaders in the Buffalo Diocese, have the opportunity to earn. The purpose of this patch is to make scouts aware of the special Church year. Age-appropriate requirements include learning about the precepts of the Catholic Church, explaining the Nicene Creed and doing some type of community service.
"The Year of Faith patch is another way for scouts to fulfill their duty to God," said Jim Smyczynski, chairman of the Catholic Committee on Scouting for the Diocese of Buffalo. "It also allows the committee to accomplish its purpose to give guidance, vitality and leadership in the spiritual phase of scouting to all Catholic scouts and scouters in the Diocese of Buffalo."
For older scouts interested in high adventure, there is the St. George Trek, a specialized 11-day wilderness backpacking retreat that is offered at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and is focused on vocations.
Father Gerald Gentleman, the director of the St. George Trek, said the trek gives scouts an opportunity to understand vocations because youth have an opportunity to converse with priests and seminarians. "In a particular way, through exposure to priests, religious and seminarians, they have an opportunity to see that God calls ‘real’ people like them. I think the trek provides a cultural environment that supports those who otherwise may have been privately discerning a vocation to priesthood and religious life."
Stephen Pasek, a scout from Troop 618 out of St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows in Elma, N.Y., is one of 72 scouts from across the country who participated in the trek this past summer. "The trek reinforced my faith, especially having daily Mass, Rosary recitations and Eucharistic adoration," said Pasek. He added, "Our 12-man crew also had the opportunity to have faith-based discussions with the priest in our crew."
Father Gentleman explained of the youths’ queries, "Their questions run the gamut, from questions about the Bible and liturgy to moral questions. They are also the ones who seem to initiate the discussion on vocation as well: ‘Father, when did you decide to be a priest?’"
Another high-adventure religious retreat that Pasek participated in a few years ago is the North American Martyrs Birchbark Expedition, which is a program associated with the Greater Niagara Frontier Council and the Buffalo Diocesan Catholic Committee on Scouting. The trip begins at the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Midland, Ontario, and concludes with a canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. A Catholic priest accompanies each crew.
The goal of Expedition Catholic (EC, ExpeditionCatholic.com) is to turn the "sheep" into shepherds by teaching teens how to guide their peers back to the Church. This four-day youth leadership training camp, which had its inaugural season this past summer, is aimed at Catholic teens in eighth grade through 12th grade.
The camp was founded by Alan Migliorato, a well-known central-Florida Catholic businessman. As a teen, Migliorato was involved in scouting and earned Catholic religious emblems, as well as the rank of Eagle Scout, which he feels helped sharpen his leadership qualities. This experience influenced his founding of EC.
"The reason I wanted to start Expedition Catholic is because I see a large number of teens that stop going to church once they have received their confirmation and once they have graduated from high school — and I wanted to help put a stop to that," said Migliorato. "I also see the need to empower our teens with leadership qualities and sharpen the ones they already have. By doing this, we can teach the ‘sheep’ to be the ‘shepherd’ and guide their peers back to the Church. After all, having a good friend that is leading you in the right direction will hold more water with teens than having an adult tell them they need to go to church."
"There is no other program like this out there that will not only teach leadership, team building, creative thinking and problem solving, but also teaches the teens how to teach others about God and how to guide their peers to the Church," said Migliorato.
"The first and foremost reason we have been able to accomplish the goals we set for the program is prayer," added Migliorato.
Ivan Lingvay, one of the teens who participated last summer, recalled how the challenges had a link to faith: "It showed me that, when guiding people to the Church, I need to be willing to talk to them seriously, but also be willing to invest a lot of time, trying again and again."
He added, "It helped increase my faith, in the sense that I’ve learned to trust in God more."
Faith and Music
Sometimes young people put their faith into action without realizing that they are doing so. The 140-plus members of the Mount St. Mary Academy Marching Band of Kenmore, N.Y., enjoy performing and marching in parades, yet when they do so, they are actually promoting their school and Catholic education in general.
Their school, a private Catholic high school for young women, was founded in 1927 by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur. In addition to representing their school, the marchers are also the official marching band for the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.
"We’re here to educate the girls and also do a service to the community," said band director John Hathaway, who started the band program at the Mount 12 years ago. "I believe that we have a duty to perform in the community as much as we can so that people can see what Catholic schools can do."
In addition to the marching band, the school also has a concert band and jazz band; many of the students perform with all three of the school’s bands.
The marching band, which is comprised of musicians, a dance team and a color guard unit, is one of the largest high-school marching bands in the Buffalo area. It is also the only all-girls marching band in New York state.
Justine Stoberl, a senior at the Mount and current band president, plays the saxophone and clarinet. She enjoys the community outreach of the band. "It’s nice when we perform at the Catholic elementary schools," she shared. "The younger kids get all excited and start dancing. It’s nice to bring music into children’s lives."
Hathaway said the marching band is "too loud" to perform at Mass, but the school’s jazz ensemble has performed a few times at the annual diocesan "Celebrate Catholic Education" fundraising event; and the marching band was invited to perform last April at the "Invest in Education Rally" in downtown Buffalo, which more than 10,000 local Catholic school students attended.
"This was a wonderful experience for the band," said Hathaway. "They loved performing for all the other Catholic school students; plus, it showed the girls who attend the Catholic elementary schools the opportunity they have to be in a band when they go to high school."
A perfect way to close out the Year of Faith for youth and their families is to attend the Proclaim Catholic Missions Conference (Proclaim2013.com; conference registration continues up until the conference begins), which will be held in Lafayette, La., on World Mission Sunday weekend (Oct. 18-20). This conference’s focus is on mission and evangelization. Profits from the conference will go to help support missionary work in Asia, which is only 7% Christian.
One of the speakers, Ralph Martin — president of Renewal Ministries and associate professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit — shared his thoughts on instilling faith in children.
"I think the most important thing for parents who want to encourage their children in the faith is to make it top priority," said Martin. "That means enrolling our children in the best religious education or Catholic school program that we can. That means looking for summer vacation Bible school or camp experiences that can strengthen our children in the faith. That means regular prayer before meals in the home and periodic family Rosaries at home and while driving places. That means stopping at adoration chapels with the children — all sensitive to the Spirit and to the children’s own responses, so as not to do too much or too little. And lots of intercessory prayer!"
Christine Smyczynski writes from Getzville, New York.