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Volunteer of the Year Awards Point to New View of Youth Ministry At Parish

Santos Carrillo at a Church Event (left), Rafael Couret Posing for Webpage (right)
Santos Carrillo at a Church Event (left), Rafael Couret Posing for Webpage (right)
Photos by Jay Cuasay

Two catechists were honored recently at Christ the Redeemer Parish with the Arlington Diocese Youth Ministry Volunteer of the Year Award. Mr. Rafael Couret was presented with his award after the Sunday June 1st Mass acknowledging his work with parish youth on Sunday nights during the Religious Education Year. Santos Carrillo also received the award in a similar presentation that took place at the Saturday May 24th Spanish Mass. The two catechists were nominated for this Youth Ministry award because their years of service have put them into contact with the majority of youth who are active in faith formation in the parish.

Mr. Couret and Mr. Carrillo are bilingual catechists at Christ the Redeemer. Since at least 2006, the two ministered to Junior and Senior high students who were preparing for Confirmation. Junior High meets on Mondays with Mr. Carrillo and Senior High meets on Sundays with Mr. Couret. Many of these students are from Spanish speaking families and had not been regularly enrolled in Religious Education. The textbook One Faith, One Lord/Una Fe Un Sol Señor (Sadlier) was implemented to provide a basic overview of Catholic belief in a bilingual format that was ideal for this situation. In the present day, this same text has now become the standard for the first year of the Confirmation Program for all youth in the parish: English and Spanish.

The perception of Youth Ministry by the average parishioner may conjure images of social activities like Pizza Parties, Lock-ins, or more targeted activities like CYO Basketball or WorkCamp. Typically there is an unfortunate division between Religious Education and Youth Ministry. RE (often called CCD by parents) is seen as a school-like atmosphere with classes mostly for sacramental preparation. Youth Ministry is seen differently as what you are eligible to participate in after “graduating” from Religious Education through the celebration of Confirmation.

This has never been the case at Christ the Redeemer, but the perception still exists along with the persistent calls for more “Youth Group” activities to be done separately from Religious Education. Meanwhile, since at least 2006 the Diocese of Arlington, through the Office of Youth Ministry, has worked very hard to put a strong faith-centered curriculum into place for High School Youth Ministry, recognizing that there is still plenty of need to share faith through catechetical instruction.

The idea that a Director of Youth Ministry is the staff person hired by a Pastor to run Youth Group by arranging events is another common image people have, but one that is not consistent with the vision of the Diocese which seeks to have coordinators of youth ministry who involve several adults in youth ministry to work with youth who come on a regularly basis for faith sharing in a peer based setting. While these changes over time have become more noticeable and concrete in the Office of Youth Ministry, at the parish level at Christ the Redeemer, catechists like Mr. Couret and Mr. Carrillo have quietly gone about their callings handling catechetical and sacramental preparation needs alongside this collaborative Youth Ministry style. They have been joined by a handful of other catechists through the years and an increasing number of bi-lingual helpers who are slowly moving toward a deeper involvement with youth and their families as they contemplate their faith formation during these two years. It may be called Religious Education or Faith Sharing, but in the end, Youth Ministry is really determined by who is involved in this occasion for ministry.

Admittedly, very few “students” come back after “getting Confirmation.”However, another way to view this (though very few do) is to see these two years of sacramental preparation and faith formation as the best years of Youth Ministry that Christ the Redeemer offered. For those seeking more for their youth where they see nothing at all, Christ the Redeemer parish has consistently asked them to continue to register their families after Confirmation and continually asks for more volunteers on Sunday night.

So far, as is probably typical of other parishes, Youth Ministry, much like Religious Education is seen as a need or service pulled off year by year by the luck and grace of the short supply of volunteers for the benefit of a larger group of families. But Youth Ministry (like any other parish ministry) requires more participation on the part of parish adults and more youth to show up on a regular basis for it to have life, purpose and true support. Coordinating Youth Ministry as a pledge for each participant to work together as church. This requires catechetical instruction. It involves awarding those who have labored to do so. And quite honestly, there is also plenty of pizza to be had.