Encouraging ‘bright spots’ and youth leaders

Written by Peter Sanchez
More than 150 youth from 16 parishes and schools took part in last Saturday’s “Youth Leader” day of faith, fellowship and formation here at Assumption Regional Catholic School in Galloway.

The day was led by Susan Searle, the project coordinator for the Youth Leader program, which is run out of the national Center for Ministry Development, and helps the young church foster personal development, leadership formation, and spirituality to create spirit-filled missionary disciples.

Luciano Trani, a youth from Saint Clare of Assisi, Swedesboro, tapes an image on “The Vision Board,” an exercise that encourages young people to imagine how they could help individuals depicted in photographs. The annual youth event was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Galloway, on March 2. Photo by Peter G. Sánchez

During the day-long event, through games and discussion, Searle encouraged the youth to discover their God-given talents, and realize their potential to be proactive, Christ-centered individuals who bring Jesus to others, speak the truth of the Gospel, and become servant leaders for the poor and needy.

The speaker’s “wealth of experience gave the youth a new perspective, as she called out their goodness, and spoke new life to them,” said Greg Coogan, the director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Camden. “She knows, like I do, that the young people are bright spots in the world,” he said.

These “bright spots,” for their part, promised to pass on what they have been given last weekend to their peers and community.

“I’ve been changed by this experience,” said Stephanie Savio, youth leader at Swedesboro’s Saint Clare of Assisi Parish.

She noted that the most effective bits of Searle’s advice were the “out of the box lessons,” which included the Eye Experiment, where youth had to look in a partner’s eyes for an uninterrupted two minutes in an activity designed to build their empathy and understanding for others; and “The Vision Board,” where youth wrote their responses to how they would help people depicted in photographs (“Hugs and Empathy” for a sad woman, “Clean Water and Compassion” to two starving children) and taped the images to a wall in the school’s auditorium.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan celebrated the liturgy, which concluded the day, at nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Imploring the youth to remember the day’s Gospel message of making sure one’s life is in proper order before criticizing others for how they live, the Camden leader reminded them that at the end of all our lives, “we will be judged by the fruits of our Christian living. In order to bear good fruit, which includes respect, love, and words more like honey than poison, one needs “a well-formed soul” centered on Christ, he continued.

Ava DiBabbo of Sewell’s Church of the Holy Family found more out of the day than communication skills, the importance of self-reflection, and the call to holiness.

“I found courage to take back home,” she said. “I found courage to step up, step out, and make my faith known to my peers.”