Faith and fun have been the focus for children and teens this summer at St. Jude Church in Monroe. From a Vacation Bible School centered around the Eucharist to Sports & Scripture nights each week, youth of all ages have had profound experiences in connecting with the Lord.
Forming relationships, playing games and spending time in adoration are what attracted a dozen or so teens to join Fr. Joseph Gill, pastor at St. Jude, on Monday evenings in the parish center. Through Frisbee, Gaga Ball and Capture the Flag, these middle and high schoolers have had the opportunity to meet others who enjoy having fun as well as sharing the Word of God. During last week’s heated game of handball, cheers rose up as one team scored a point while an opponent admitted, “It’s a battle out here!” Hannah Vu, a recent graduate of Masuk High School, said that’s part of building community.
“This is a great way to make strong relationships with other kids and push us out of our comfort zone,” said Vu, who often attends with her brother Hansel, 13. “The activities and scripture together make it a good time.”
Christopher Iturralde, an incoming 8th grader at Cardinal Kung Academy, agrees. “It’s interactive and open,” he said. “Reading the Bible and responding to questions help deepen my faith, especially when I hear others’ thoughts and think, ‘Hmm, I never thought about it that way before.’ You hear another interpretation.”
Following a half hour of games, the teens and Fr. Gill, accompanied by assistant Katie Gray and seminarian Pablo Aca, gather for snacks and then read the upcoming Sunday Gospel, sitting in a circle to further a sense of community. Discussing the passages in ways that relate to teens helps put situations at their level and makes them easier to understand, said Vu. Fr. Gill prompts participants with questions such as “What do you think God wants for you?” which elicit comments like “get on the right path” and “make a connection with Him.”
“It’s not catechesis. I want to make the readings life-applicable,” he said. “We’re talking about what God is saying to them as 8th graders. It’s a way to make the faith more palpable for these kids.”
And at St. Jude, that starts long before they reach their teens. While the older kids have enjoyed Sports & Scripture, those in kindergarten through grade 5 had the opportunity to take part in the week-long Vacation Bible School “Camp Adore” in mid-July. With a theme of Jesus in the Eucharist, campers began each day with Mass, a youth-centered homily and adoration. They then rotated through stations such as crafts, games, praise and worship music and lessons about young saints such as Maria Goretti and Blessed Carlos Acutis – all while keeping the focus on the Eucharist.
“The entire point of this camp is to introduce kids into a living relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. I think the sparks of that relationship [were] lit this week!” said Fr. Gill.
According to Jessica Iannotta, St. Jude’s Family Ministry Coordinator, through generous donations, each child received a Mass bag with a children’s Bible and prayer journals. “Campers had a great experience and shared their enthusiasm in wanting to come back day after day,” she added. “It is our hope that this will continue to draw them closer to the Lord and desire to worship Him at Mass and adoration more regularly.”
Fr. Gill recalled one morning after adoration when a third-grade boy knelt before the altar and proclaimed, “God, I won’t let you down!” For the children at St. Jude, it seems a relationship with their Lord and their faith have already taken root.
By Emily Clark