Teens and children encouraged to grow in relationship with Eucharistic Lord

HAMMOND – Looking around at the families gathered at Bishop Noll Institute on Aug. 26, it was evident that the day’s theme, “Inspiring Presence,” brought together men and women of various ethnicities and ages from all around the Diocese of Gary. Sessions geared for adults, youth, 13-17, as well as children 5-12, truly made it “A Eucharistic Encounter for All Ages.”
Chris Padgett, speaker, musician and author, has been ministering around the country for more than a decade. After the celebration of Mass in the BNI fieldhouse, teenagers came to the auditorium to hear his talk, “I’m Not Okay; You’re Not Okay, But It’s Okay.” He invited the middle and high school group to pray and asked them to sing a song exclaiming, “I see you’re wonderful. I see you’re beautiful. I see you’re valuable. I see you breathe.”
Padgett boosted his young audience by telling them, “God looks at you and sees someone perfectly made because His creativity is without end. No one is ever going to think like you, talk like you, be like you. Jesus picks you because he wants to be with you. 
“You’re not a liability,” he continued. “So as you’re looking in the mirror and think, ‘But I have all these flaws,’ the truth is that God looks at you and says ‘Here’s what I love about you.’”
Padgett said that so often people can believe a stranger or worry about someone else's opinion who is not invested in them, who does not know them or doesn’t even remotely care about them.
“To them you’re an object, a product, the possibility of a sale,” he said. “Why is it that we give so much power to people who don’t know us, don’t love us and don’t care for us that we push away the people who do care about us and do love us?” 
Using a touch of humor, Padgett repeatedly shared stories from his own childhood, honestly describing how he wasn’t necessarily the most coordinated or athletically built individual growing up. 
Over time he said, he became comfortable with his own limitations and relying on God when he needed help. Today, he gets to do what he loves – travel all over the world talking about the faith, making people laugh, playing music and writing books.
“If you would have asked young Chris, ‘Could you imagine that one day you’ll travel all over the world and your books will be in different places, and you'll play music that will be on the radio?’ I’d say you might be talking about my friends; that they are the cool ones,” he said.
“But God looked at me and said ‘No, no, no. You, Chris. The way that you are. The way that you think. You are exactly what I want when it comes to this.”
Padgett used the biblical story of David of Goliath to further illustrate the importance of a person's character. In the story of the young shepherd boy, David finds himself in confrontation with a large Philistine soldier, Goliath, and is able to overtake him. Padgett pointed out that it wasn’t until David hit Goliath between the eyes with a rock, and Golith fell, that the Israeli army was inspired to fight back against the Philistines.  
“It takes one person sometimes to say ‘Yes, I’m going to live for God’ to move an entire army,” Padgett  told the teens. “If just one of you in your friend circle starts taking seriously your faith, you believe that God has picked you and is preparing you to do great things, and if you believe God is giving you this moment to love and to witness, then you will destroy the many Goliaths that are out there.”
Will Sullivan, a student at Wheeler Middle School in Crown Point who attends St. Matthias, smiled and gave Padgett an enthusiastic thumbs up,  “It was pretty good. Talking about how his life (unfolded) was really great,” he said.
Thelma Morales, another St. Matthias parishioner who attends Crown Point High School, shared what she took away from Padgett’s talk. “God chooses each person specifically and other people’s opinions of you don’t matter,” she summarized.
Just down the hallway in the media center some of the diocese’s youngest Catholics engaged in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a form of faith formation. 
Marianna Humenikova, of Whiting, registered her daughter Sarah because she wanted her to learn more about the Mass and help her come closer to Jesus. Humenikova personally recalled being part of religious education when she was young and said she wants to pass on her faith to her 8-year-old. 
“I wanted her to experience the big Church and not just the little parish we are in,” said the St. John the Baptist parishioner.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is geared toward ages 3-12, with a toddler portion available as well. 
“What I think is beautiful is that it meets the children where they are, what their strengths are,” said presenter Hollie Cook. “The youngest children have such a grasp of language at that point, so the program gives them all the nomenclature of the Church so that when they go to Mass they can look as say, ‘Oh that’s the tabernacle and that’s the paten.’”
Cook, who facilitated the Good Shepherd program along with Susan Jett and Leah Rieckens, explained that it gives children a grasp of their faith from the youngest age, not a “watered down faith” but the truth.
“They become owners of their own faith at a young age, and it gives them the tools to be able to grow and prosper in their faith,” added Cook. 
The focus for the day for everyone was the Eucharistic Presence, so the youngsters listened to the parable of the Good Shepherd, how Jesus presented himself and what that means for their relationship with him as they answered questions “Who are they in that relationship?” How are they called?” and “What is their response?”
An older age group looked at the parable more deeply and how the sheep translates to the people of the Church and the Good Shepherd is not just an image but Jesus who becomes present in the bread and wine. 
The oldest children reviewed the details of The Last Supper and how it was the origin of the Eucharist. “From that moment Jesus, instead of being a flesh and blood person, stays present with us in the bread and wine and calls us to that relationship with him in the Mass through the Eucharist,” Cook said.
Many people underestimate what children can understand when it comes to their faith, she added, admitting that as a parent she did, too, but has since had five children go through the Good Shepherd program.
“It’s been a journey watching them blossom in their (faith) relationship and a huge boost to my own relationship because as I’m learning (through teaching) the program there are things in the Mass, events of the Mass, that I really understand because I approached them through the eyes of a child,” she said.
Cook was pleasantly surprised that 60 children participated, among them friends Brooke Murzyn and Avery Frederickson, who could be seen working together.
“I liked when she was setting up the altar,” shared Frederickson.
Matthias Vazquez, of Munster, also enjoyed the visual component to the lessons. “I liked hearing about the Resurrection of Jesus and seeing it done in 3D,” he said.
Cook called the event a beautiful opportunity and looks forward to growing the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in the Diocese of Gary. She explained there are a few parish programs scattered throughout the diocese but believes it would be a great benefit to have a greater presence of catechesis for young children.
“(Children) approach these deep truths and ponder them in a different way than (adults) do, but they form a beautiful relationship with the Good Shepherd and once you have that beautiful relationship, it’s just like having a best friend and you’re always going to stay in contact with that best friend,” said Cook.   


Caption: Children including Josie Schwartz, Colette Ummel, Grace Usdowski and Rylee Krupa wait to participate in the a portion of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program during the Diocese of Gary event that focused on the Eucharistic Presence at Bishop Noll on Aug. 26. (Erin Ciszczon photo)