Special to The Dialog
Enthusiasm always seems to be at the core of the upcoming Catholic Youth Ministry Pilgrimage on March 24, the Saturday of Palm Sunday weekend.
Hundreds of elementary and high school students from Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore process through the streets of Wilmington carrying a Pilgrimage Cross, starting and ending at St. Elizabeth Church. Young people and families come out for the pilgrimage and to express their faith through the streets, encouraging others in the community to see the strength of their faith.
The annual pilgrimage is Catholic Youth and Young Adult Ministry’s most visible program in the Diocese of Wilmington, followed by a faith-based youth sports program and an annual youth ministry recognition dinner.
But most of CYM’s ministry is behind the scenes, helping parishes and groups to deliver Catholic teachings to youth and young adults. This year, for example, its efforts include helping volunteers at St. Christopher Parish in Chester, Md., re-establish a youth ministry; supporting a new director of youth ministry at St. Francis de Sales in Salisbury, and working with young adult ministries such as Wilmington Catholic Young Adults (informally called WilCYA) in New Castle County.
Money raised through the Annual Catholic Appeal help fund CYM’s efforts at diocesan and parish levels to help youth and young adults become “Disciples of Christ, Witnesses to Faith,” the theme for the 2018 Annual Catholic Appeal.
This year’s goal is $4,681,500. Catholics in the pew will be asked to pledge or donate to the 2018 Annual Catholic Appeal at Mass the weekend of April 14-15.
The youth ministries at St. Christopher and St. Francis de Sales, and WilCYA young adult ministry illustrate how money raised by the Annual Catholic Appeal helps reach middle and high school students and young adults.
In Salisbury, Liza Alvarado is in her first year as director of religious education for youth ministry, a paid staff position at St. Francis de Sales. She had worked many years in family and youth ministries before taking her new post, but her previous experience was in Protestant churches; she became Catholic several years ago.
“I have been very impressed with the organization of the Diocese of Wilmington,” Alvarado said. “There is a clear vision and system in place for supporting the local parishes.”
“After working for many years in Protestant churches, this is the first time I have felt such tremendous support to commitment and youth leaders. I’ve been able to receive spiritual and instructional guidance and befriend leaders from other parishes” through CYM, especially through monthly meetings called Network.
While Network is open to all youth ministers, paid ministers are usually the ones who attend since meetings are often held during the day. The majority of parishes don’t have a paid youth minister. A lot of them use volunteers, and some are trying to develop a program.
St. Christopher on Kent Island falls into the latter categories. JP and Angela Bailey decided the parish needed to start a youth ministry, such as the one JP had participated in while growing up in the parish. The couple volunteered to lead the ministry. Both are public school teachers but had no training in Catholic youth ministry.
They attended a program last fall kicking off the youth ministry year. “It was helpful to meet other youth ministers,” JP said.
The Baileys started a middle school youth ministry this year, with plans to expand to high school next year. About 10 students attend each session.
CYM staff “had an extensive meeting with us in the fall [and] offered many helpful insights and suggestions to help us start,” Angela said. CYM resources, such as ones on Catholic Social Teaching, “will especially be helpful once we begin our high school ministry.”
At St. Mary of the Assumption in Hockessin, St. Mary’s Young Professionals Project, a young adult ministry started in 2011, began to flounder several years ago as founders moved away, started families or advanced in careers that limited the time they had available. The group “rebranded in 2016 to become Wilmington Catholic Young Adults,” or WilCYA, said Elise Maloney, one of its organizers.
It was expanded from a parish-based ministry to a regional ministry. “The parish-based model is not usually sustainable, whereas the regional model, where parishes work together, is typically more successful.”
Current members come from at least 15 parishes, she said.
Programs – some social, some religious, and some a mixture of the two – are held Tuesdays at different locations in northern New Castle County. First Tuesday features pub trivia in the Newark area; second Tuesday, Bible study in north Wilmington; third Tuesday, Holy Hour-Happy Hour, with eucharistic adoration at St. Elizabeth in Wilmington followed by social time at a pub, and fourth Tuesday, Mass and fellowship at St. Mary of the Assumption.
“WilCYA has been working closely with CYM [and] CYM has made the time to support young adult ministry,” she said.
WilCYA and CYM also support and promote other young adult ministries and programs throughout the diocese, such as one at Immaculate Conception in Elkton that began this year and a Theology on Tap program in Caroline County that could lead to a young adult ministry at St. Benedict in Ridgely.
The goal, as with all CYM programs, is to strengthen the faith of the young and young adults to help them live out this year’s Annual Catholic Appeal theme: “Disciples of Christ, Witnesses of Faith.”
Special to The Dialog