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Adult volunteer Cassie Guenther, left, meets in a YDisciple small group of freshmen through juniors at a member’s home in West Point Feb. 10, including, from left, Sarah Hrbeck, Jena Wimer, Bobbie Ortmeier, Hannah McGill, Alondra Salazar, Regan Dorcey and Kassandra Salazar. All attend Guardian Angels Central Catholic School or West Point-Beemer Junior-Senior High School, both in West Point.

Ignite the Faith funds spark new parish programs

 Zach Kaup, a junior at Guardian Angels Central Catholic School in West Point, said he looks forward every week to sharing thoughts and experiences with six friends during their YDisciple faith formation sessions.

"We’re close, we understand each other and we work well together," Kaup said.

The online and small-group program for high school youth, with start-up costs funded by the archdiocese’s Ignite the Faith capital campaign, began last fall at St. Mary Parish in West Point. About 70 students and 22 adult leaders are involved, with parishioners Andy and Cassie Guenther spearheading the effort.

And the program – already in nine other parishes and set to be expanded by about five more next fall – is just one example of Ignite the Faith funds being put to work in parishes and schools across the archdiocese. The highly successful capital campaign wrapped up in December after raising more than $52 million in cash and pledges – 30 percent over the $40 million goal.

That success means YDisciple and other youth ministry initiatives can work with a total of $262,000 over the next few years, compared with the $200,000 goal.

Other parish-based faith formation programs will have $262,000 to work with, up from $200,000, including online resource, "My Catholic Faith Delivered," for advanced training of catechists and parish ministers.

The additional funds will be put to good use, including offering parishes the opportunity to apply for grants that could help bring new programs to people of all ages, said Bill Beckman, director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, which oversees youth and adult ministry in the archdiocese.

"We want to make some funds available to parishes thinking outside the box. We also want parents to be involved in catechesis" so they can help teach their children, Beckman said.

Participation in "My Catholic Faith Delivered" alone has grown from about 450 people last spring to about 600 across the archdiocese, Beckman said. That’s about one-third of the 1,800 or so ministers who could take advantage of the program, he said.

"We’ve got the money there," Beckman said. "It’s time to act, take advantage of it."

People interested in taking the online courses about spiritual development, church teaching and effective ways to help others learn can contact their parish religious education director or pastor, Beckman said.

Youths and adult volunteers also are learning ministries and skills in YDisciple, which challenges participants to share with one another and evangelize, said Jen Moser, coordinator of youth ministry in the archdiocese. YDisciple encourages parental involvement, and an overall commitment and determined living of the faith, she said.

Small groups are ideal places to start, because those involved get to know one another, fostering honesty and trust, she said.

Kaup said he has found trust and honesty in his group, in part because all are juniors at Central Catholic and they knew each other going into the program. And it has given him courage to share his faith outside of YDisciple, reaching out to others.

An example was last November, when at a Sunday Mass he saw a woman he did not know, about 60 years old, head down in prayer and crying, Kaup said. He sat next to her, prayed and shared the hour of Mass with her. It was a quiet moment of solidarity.

"When Mass was over she thanked me for sitting by her and praying with her," he said.

Another kind of reaching out and quiet sharing is the basis of a new parish-based faith formation program fueled by Ignite the Faith funds and set to be introduced with training sessions in Omaha this spring, perhaps in late May.

Using specially designed materials such as miniature altars, sacred vessels and other faith-related items, the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program involves adults using hands-on, Montessori-based teaching methods as volunteers encourage children grouped in ages 3 to 6 and 6 to 9 to explore and talk about their faith, Beckman said.

"A lot of this is tactile, children working with materials," Beckman said. "They learn where things go and what they mean."

Actively engaged, the children also talk about and grow in ways that help them understand and meet Jesus, to see him as their friend and Lord, Beckman said. "When that happens, life changes, even if you are a little one," he said.

Independent of the archdiocese’s effort, people already trained and registered in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program include volunteers at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and St. Vincent de Paul Parish, both in Omaha, Beckman said.

Lynne Santos, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, said the program encourages meditative, creative behavior from youngsters, going beyond a simple playtime.

"There is a trick to getting there that people receive from training," Santos said.

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