So I am pretty sure that I have one of the best jobs in the world. God is so good to me. I spent the end of May and the beginning of June in Louisiana, to see some of their parish ministry and to take part in the ECHO camp – a Theology of the Body Summer Camp for Teens, facilitated by Dumb Ox Ministries.
Youth ministry in the USA feels like a world away from what I see when I visit parishes here in Westminster; however it is lovely to see what could one day be a reality here. Of the parishes I went to visit, many of their youth group evenings are connected to a youth Mass.
I loved how the source and summit of our faith as Catholics is so clearly evident in their ministry. Their youth groups are there to bring their young people into relationship with Christ and they are not ashamed to do it. Watching it was so freeing, because I know I have been one of those ‘let’s not push them too far’ people; however the message from across the pond: set the standards and they will rise to them.
My time in the States climaxed with this week-long summer camp. Dumb Ox Ministries (named after the dumb ox, Thomas Aquinas) is a non-profit organisation which forms teens, young adults and families into people open to receive and respond to God’s unique plan for their life; it was a joy to spend time with such joy-filled and holy people.
This year was their 5th annual ECHO camp (named Echo after a quote in Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II) and was well-attended, with 150 young people coming in total. The week starts with just some young adults (18-30ish) when we receive the teaching and formation in an environment where we could receive and discuss as a young adult community. Then a few days later we took on different roles to welcome the young people (16-18) from mentoring (small group leaders), to hospitality and intercession.
The whole programme and setup was slick and well run; it felt effortless, which is only a sign of a huge amount of pre-thought and energy. And the young people were a huge joy, full of life and energy and questions. My favourite part of ministry is this idea of discipleship, walking and journeying alongside and the whole camp was set up in a way that we had that opportunity to invest in them.
Personally, I feel that the teaching of Theology of the Body is foundational to our efforts to evangelise our nation. Within its folds can be found truth, answers and freedom, because it points back to the ultimate source: relationship with the Trinitarian God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that I can use this experience of ECHO to bring that same freedom home. Seeing it used in such an effective and freeing way makes me realise how much is possible, and I am excited to see where God will lead this ministry to our youth.