Middle schoolers urged to have faith, show mercy and model God’s love

VALPARAISO – St. Paul parish hosted a retreat on Feb. 29 aimed at giving middle school students 20/20 vision - not physical vision, but spiritual vision.

      Cathie Dull, Edge Middle School Youth Ministry coordinator at St. Paul, said this year’s retreat, “2020 - God’s Perfect Vision,” tried “giving the kids a chance to journey to see how the world sees themes like faith, mercy, and love in themselves, and then how God sees these themes.”

      She explained the importance of reaching middle schoolers through programs like Edge, a nationally recognized Catholic middle school youth ministry program.

       “They’re at such a critical age. Middle schoolers are right at the edge. This is where they decide if they want to continue on in their faith or not, if this is what they believe or not,” said Dull.

      She said topics for the sixth year of the retreat were love, mercy and faith. “When we cover topics like love with kids this age, we want them to feel loved. We want them to know that God loves us all,” Dull explained.

      Vicky Hathaway, consultant for the Diocese of Gary Office for Youth & Young Adults, spoke on mercy and how a pilgrimage to Poland for World Youth Day helped her understand mercy and realize why everyone should show mercy to others.

      Hathaway told the teens, “God, knowing that we’re going to mess up, is waiting for us to come back. God is always there waiting for us with open arms to throw his arms around us and welcome us back as beloved sons and daughters with that unconditional love.”

      She shared the ABC’s of mercy:

      A - Ask for mercy in prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “I look at it as repairing our relationship with God,” she said.

      B - Be merciful. We can ask for mercy, but we have to be merciful to others.

      C - Completely trust in God.

      Maggie Kuka, 13, and Katelyn Nguyen, 14, agreed that the retreat was spiritually rewarding.

      “I’ll definitely remember this day. I need to remember that God sees more things than I can see, Nguyen said. “I’m going to have a lot of questions when I get older and retreats like this can help answer some of those questions.”

      Kuka said of the retreat: “It helped me see how God’s plan plays a big role in your life later on and how you have to blindly trust God.”

      The group of nearly 40 middle-schoolers were treated to a visit from Bishop Robert J. McClory, who shared with the youth several stories, including the moment he learned he was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Gary and how he designed his coat of arms. He said he reflected and prayed about the elements of faith that are important to him as he chose the symbols to be displayed in his coat of arms, including a little known fact about the pine cone.

      He and 20 other priests take a vacation every year to a 35,000-acre tree farm in Alabama. Everyone has a chore to do and his was collecting pine cones. So, while the group was vacationing in January, he told them that he was going to feature a pine cone on his episcopal coat of arms.

      Following the bishop’s talk, the middle schoolers made their own coat of arms. The bishop suggested they reflect on who they are and design the emblem accordingly. The youths were “very attentive and gave beautiful depictions of their own faith in their coats of arms,” he noted.

       “Sometimes people need to be around young people just to experience the youthfulness of our faith. The Catholic Church is always young and it’s great to see some witnesses and examples of that. They were inspiring,” the bishop said.

      Bishop McClory also complemented Annie Sherman, an Andrean High School senior who testified how her faith changed her life. “We’re called to share of ourselves, that others can be drawn closer to Christ. A model for evangelization is that young people should evangelize other young people. She (Sherman) gave a great witness,” he said.

      Sherman shared that despite growing up in a Catholic household, she struggled with her faith, especially after her grandfather died during her sophomore year. “I started making poor choices in my personal life. As time went by, I felt a distancing more and more from God. I never truly opened myself up to God,” Sherman said.

      She said a summer retreat was “singlehandedly the most important week for my faith life. I did some serious soul searching and realized I enjoyed spending time with God.”

      She explained her faith was tested after a friend revealed she was abused and when another friend lost her mother in a house fire. She admitted that she was angry at God and wasn’t sure how to help her friends other than just be there for them.

       “God needed me to have faith in his abilities to work through me to be a good friend and a good disciple in the situation — a small light of God for my friends,” said Sherman. “Being there for people when they need you most is all that God asks of us. God needs us to be there for others in the same way we need him to be there for us.

       “You guys are at a really important part of your life, (but) I don’t know if you realize it yet. What I ask is that as you continue through middle school and enter high school, trust that God is there. When the going gets tough, he’s watching over you, he’s loving you. Go to him and talk to him. Build a relationship with him.”