Week-long institute aims to foster leadership

Teenagers, from left, Scott O’Neil, Paris Klmez, Alain Kagaba, Jordan Burns and Taylor Thompson participated in a team-building exercise July 12 during the week-long Christian Leadership Institute held at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Much like youth in the Archdiocese of Louisville have been doing for close to four decades, about 30 high school students gathered for the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) July 9-13 at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive.

The week-long event aims to present opportunities for teens to take part in leadership activities that help them to get a better “understanding of themselves and their gifts and what they have to offer,” said Joshua Huff, who was director of CLI this year.

The mission of the yearly summer institute, said Huff, is to “create a fun week for teens that incorporate skills and lessons that are all centered around servant leadership.” 

“I believe in the program because you continue to see the results within parishes and schools,” said Huff, noting that he’s seen participants go on to fulfill leadership roles in their churches and schools. Some also move on to become members of the Archdiocesan Youth Advisory Board — a group that provides a voice for the youth to the archdiocese’s Office of Youth and Young Adults, he said.

Some of the young CLI participants said they’d seen a change in themselves as the week unfolded.

Lillie Bennett, a senior at Assumption High School who attends St. Stephen Martyr Church, said she learned how to lead a conversation in a small group. Usually, she said, “I would be the one who would comment, but not lead. I feel confident now that I can lead a conversation,” said Bennett.

Vincent Wolfram, a sophomore at Trinity High School who attends St. Albert the Great Church, said  he felt he’d “matured as a leader and a Christian.”

The institute — created in 1980 by Dr. Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville — is the longest-running program organized by the Office of  Youth and Young Adults, said Laura Zoeller, associate director of that office.

The CLI is but one of the offerings of the Office of Youth and Young Adults, which is led by Karl Dolson. Its mission is to support those who “minister for and with young people, leading them to be disciples of Christ,” said Zoeller in an interview July 12.

The second part of that goal is to offer direct programming to the young church. 

Zoeller said a minority of parishes have full-time youth ministers. It’s challenging for parishes to minister to the youth when some people are working part-time or on a volunteer basis.

Still, she noted, she’s seeing activity pick up in some parishes, such as Sts. Simon and Jude Church where there are now two volunteers “doing a wonderful job” with their youth ministry.

In the Office of Youth and Young Adults, some new things have been happening, said  Zoeller.

Zoeller, a member of St. William Church who worked in parish youth ministry since the early 1980s, said the “Junior High Call to Action,” a one-day workshop set for Aug. 25 at St. Michael Church is one such program. It’s a response, she said, to the parish youth ministers who had been asking for a program for middle schoolers. The “Junior High Call to Action” is meant to “expose them to the bigger church outside of their parish and school,” said Zoeller.

New also this year is a program which takes youth to the Southern Kentucky mission parishes where they help parishioners with yard work or small repairs to the church, said Zoeller.

A group traveled to Emmanuel Church in Albany, Ky., in April where they planted a butterfly garden elderly parishioners had been wanting. The office has three more trips planned this year to Emmanuel, where participants will do more yard work and maintain the garden during the summer and plant crosses in the church’s yard in observance of Respect Life Month in October, said Zoeller.

“It’s a great way for the youth to see the rest of the archdiocese,” she noted. This service program is a collaboration with Catholic Charities, she said.

In March the office also opened its “Christian Awakening” retreat for the first time to high school freshmen and sophomores who attend public schools and those who are homeschooled, said Zoeller. The three-day retreat took place in March at the Flaget Center.

Zoeller said the hope of the Office of Youth and Young Adults is that “our young people will be strengthened to carry on the faith and do good in the world.” She noted that “more emphasis needs to be placed on the young people because they’re the future.”

She’s hoping, she said, that “some good insights from the bishops and the pope” will result from the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, a worldwide meeting coming up in October at the Vatican.

Zoeller said she’s really happy the Vatican asked for young people’s input from around the world, including some youth in the archdiocese.

Catholic News Service reported June 19 that in preparation for the synod, comments were solicited by questionnaire from national bishops’ conferences around the world. Zoeller said some youth and youth ministers in the archdiocese received and filled out these questionnaires. That way, she said, the bishops and the pope will gain a “broad view of what’s happening in the church.”

According to the CNS report, the response from the questionnaires, as well as the result from a pre-synod gathering at the Vatican March 19-25, has been compiled into the synod’s “instrumentum laboris” or working document which the Vatican released June 19.

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