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Program aims to get youth excited about Bible

About this article

The article from the Superior Catholic Herald is about the YES! Youth Engaging Scripture Intiative.
Young people in the diocese are getting excited about Scripture and it's all part of a national effort called "Yes! Youth Engaging Scripture." YES is a Catholic teen-to-teen Bible sharing concept and to date, some 1,800 young people have been trained nationwide to be YES peer leaders.

"Our hope is that they would go back to their parishes and then form small groups of their peers for Scripture sharing, " said Dennis Kurtz, coordinator of the teen Bible study project for Saint Mary's Press of Winona, Minn. "The ultimate idea is that we are teaching teens a skill that they can use life long and we are creating a practice for Catholics to read Scripture on a regular basis."

The program is also trying to improve on the startling statistic that shows only 25 percent of Catholics read the Bible.

"Our goal with YES! is to create Bible literacy within Catholic youth," Kurtz said.

The objective of YES! is to create small groups of youth doing Bible sharing.

"It's creating a practice for young people to read Scripture on a regular basis," Kurtz said. "The sharing is focused on the Gospel reading and it is hoped this will also get young people to fully participate in the Sunday liturgy."

YES training has taken place nationwide and within the diocese.

"We are trying to get young people familiar with Scripture and how it applies to their own lives," Kurtz said. "The process used is lectio divina. This is Latin for divine reading and has been a part of the Catholic tradition for hundreds of years."

Cheryl Vos, a youth minister and faith formation coordinator at Holy Family Parish in Woodruff, attended YES training with some teens and adults from her parish. Although they do not have small groups there, Vos has found materials received from YES useful. She is using the resources as a way to train adult youth leaders and to show teens how to pray with Scripture.

"Teens really hunger for Scripture and they're searching for their own identity," Vos said. "They're stepping from their parents' faith and into their own faith. By giving them different opportunities in reading Scripture we help them to cross that bridge from their parents' faith to their own faith."

Kay Jarvensivu, a religious education coordinator at Saint Mary Parish in Tomahawk, "test marketed" YES with a confirmation class. From it a small group of three teenage girls was formed.

"I like YES because there are really no right or wrong answers, " Jarvensivu said.

"When we're studying Scripture, your response is based upon what you think God is saying to you. Having kids in the group you get a different perspective on the same Scripture passage."

Teen Amanda Johnson was among a group from Saint Patrick Parish, Hudson, who attended YES training. She is one of five YES per group leaders at her parish. These small groups meet at different times to try to cater to teens' active schedules.

"We try to find a time that works for people, " said Johnson.

A junior at Hudson High School, Johnson said she likes YES because it's aimed at youth.

"The views are coming from the students," she said. "It's not so overwhelming or adult oriented. You understand what's being said."

In Hudson, the group meets weekly.

"Some groups meet within a relaxed area of the church and others meet at a coffee joint," Johnson said. "That can make it a more relaxing and an open environment for discussion."

Before the small groups started in Hudson, Fr. John Parr, pastor of Saint Patrick Parish, and Sally Kaiser, a parish adult leader with YES, met with the student leaders to go over the Scripture study process and to work out the details of getting YES started in this parish.

"All the student leaders showed dedication, willingness and desire to make this work," Kaiser said.

"I've been impressed by their leadership skills. They started their small groups with the beginning of Lent and have been going well. I have now stopped meeting with them since the purpose of YES is to have a student run and lead the study. I am available to them as a resource if needed and have continued to stay in contact with them."

Typically, each group meets for about an hour to study and reflect on the week's Gospel.

"We talk about them and how the reading impacts our lives," Johnson said. "We try to find ways we can use the reading to influence other people."

From past lessons, teens have come to understand the meaning of God's unconditional love. "God loves us no matter what," Johnson said.

In Hudson, the youth receive support of their pastor.

"He (Parr) is so involved with us," Johnson said. "He meets with us to make sure we get the message about the Gospel. He makes all the youth feel important and even tries to implement some message to us in his homilies."

Kaiser said this Scripture program is successful because it's youth based.

"It's doing two things, preparing high school student to be active church leaders and giving the Sunday Gospel a more personal meaning and understanding to each of them," she said. "I like the fact that they're able to relate the Gospel to themselves and their life. I feel that is important to do at any age. Because of YES they're able to go to church on Sunday more prepared to listen to the word of God."

As an adult leader, Kaiser has found a pleasure in working with the students and discovering the insight that teens share about the Gospel.

"It has given me new meaning when I hear a particular (Scripture) story," she said. "It's my hope that YES at St Patrick's will continue to grow. With the start and direction these students have taken, I am positive it will."

To help in the growth of YES in Hudson, teens have extended personal invitations to their friends and peers. "People are interested and that is due to the fact that these teen leaders have worked hard to make YES work," Kaiser said. "I have been able to sit back and watch them take the lead and that's fun to see."

Acknowledgments

This article was originally published in the Superior Catholic Herald. To find out more about the Superior Catholic Herald, visit their home page at http://www.catholicherald.org.

Published April 7, 2005.