Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Youth Ministries

The majority of ministries the Capuchin Franciscans do are based at the organizational level of the congregation, or parish. The remainder involve other institutions where the presence of a chaplain is desired, such as a hospital, hospice, nursing home, shelter, or house of correction. At the request of a bishop or executive director, the province sends brothers and priests to serve at churches and non-profits. The responsibility of supporting the brother's ministry belongs to the congregation or organization that seeks his services.

On the other hand, a group of religious may also found, operate, govern, and sustain a ministry of its own. Thus did religious orders of brothers and sisters establish and maintain hospitals, colleges and universities, and numerous charitable agencies throughout the United States during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Today, the Capuchins of New York and New England operate one ministry at the provincial level. Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries was founded in the middle 1970s to evangelize adolescents through parish group retreats, and to build teen and youth leadership through training programs. The retreat facilities are in Garrison, N.Y., on a 30-acre campus overlooking the Hudson River. It is the spiritual descendant of a high school the friars used to operate there as a minor seminary, which fed many young men into priestly and religious formation upon their graduation. Every year, thousands of youths from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut head to Garrison for the retreats and training programs held two or three times a week all the year round. What they receive in faith formation and leadership development, they hand on to their families, their parishes, and their schools. Thus the call to Francis of Assisi to rebuild the Church is passed on to his innumerable spiritual children.

The postulants travelled to Garrison today to learn practical retreat skills from the brothers, staff, and volunteers. We stayed for lunch, Mass, and dinner. Two friars, a priest and a brother, work as chaplain and assistant director, respectively. The executive director is a lay person. There are eight young adult volunteers working at the retreat center this year with the friars and staff. The chaplain is a great and gentle guy; the assistant director is a strong and steady presence. The executive director is an excellent group leader. And the volunteers are just about the most high-octane bunch of young adults I've ever met!

It is remarkable what the volunteers, staff, and friars accomplish every year in lives touched and spirits kindled through the youth retreats and outreach programs. Rather than recapitulate what you can find very easily on the Capuchins' website, I will direct you there, with a recommendation to view their vision statement, history, and virtual tour

Often I have been skeptical of the value of youth ministry, because my own religious and spiritual awakening occurred at the end of my adolescence and more in spite of the spare religious education I received growing up than because of it. Because I have experienced my faith as fundamentally an "adult" thing, it has been my bias to assume that children and young people don't really have true faith. But my visit to Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries has lessened the rigidity of my view. It is vanity to boast that one's faith is authentic because it was untimely born, and it is uncharitable to wish upon others a wilderness of alienation in their formative years in the lazy hope that God may touch them, too, in their dryness. While I am convinced that powerful religious experiences take place ultimately according to God's initiative alone, human cooperation is also required, which means that we can and must create an environment in which it is possible for people to have an encounter with God. It sobers me to think that we as a human race are increasingly building a world where it is impossible to experience the holy. In that light, I am newly grateful for the work that youth and young adult ministers do everywhere -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, everyone from all faiths.

As for the Franciscans with whom I now walk, I would say that Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries is the jewel in the Capuchin crown, except the friars take vows of poverty and wouldn't wear a crown! Say instead that this ministry is like a golden seam in the brothers' humble habit.

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