ALLOUEZ — Last summer, nearly 300 teens from around the Diocese of Green Bay participated in a service ministry program that took them to homes of elderly residents. The middle school and high school youth painted, pulled weeds, mowed grass and interacted with the senior homeowners.
Known as Love Begins Here, this will be the fourth summer the youth service program will be held, according to Maximus Cabey, diocesan Children and Youth Faith Formation director. His office plans youth ministry programs and trains youth ministers.
Cabey said Love Begins Here and other programs offered by the diocese not only help students to deepen their faith. The example of youth being on fire for the Lord can also influence the faith lives of their parents.
“When students are turned on to their faith, it becomes a witness to their parents,” he said. Cabey, along with Callie Kowalski, Child and Youth Faith Formation assistant director, is in charge of planning events for diocesan youth. “What we find happening is parents wanting to know what’s going on with their kids — in a good way. You find parents wanting to be chaperones to things that we offer because of the fruit they see in their kids. You have parents feeling maybe more inspired to go to Mass because they have a student who goes to (diocesan-sponsored events) and comes back changed and transformed and excited about their faith. It sparks something in some of our parents.”
In addition to Love Begins Here, Cabey said the diocese gives youth the opportunity to attend gatherings such as the Green Bay Youth Conference, Steubenville Youth Conferences and the March for Life in Washington D.C.
“These (events) are able to heighten and intensify some of the good benefits that our students may experience in religious education in our parishes, as well as experiences in Catholic schools,” he said. “When students learn about their faith, when they learn about God, his goodness, grace and mercy, and what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross … it can be very transformative.”
The Bishop’s Appeal makes these youth ministries possible by funding the work of Cabey and Kowalski. “Love Begins Here, the things we do, are all sponsored by Bishop’s Appeal,” said Cabey. “If that (funding) goes away, those things go away as well.”
The Green Bay Diocese’s Families and Schools of Discipleship Mission Team, which includes the Office of Children and Youth Faith Formation, receives 69% of their operating budget ($1.75 million) from the Bishop’s Appeal.
“Through generous support of the Bishop’s Appeal, children learn about Jesus and the great plans he has for their lives,” said Tammy Danz, Bishop’s Appeal director. “Faith formation plays such a key role in forming our children and families in our Catholic faith and developing lifelong disciples.”
Cabey said that Love Begins Here started in the Diocese of Madison and is inspired by the spirituality of St. Teresa of Kolkata.
“St. Teresa said, ‘Love always begins here,’ whereever we are, it begins with our family,” he said. “Instead of our students leaving the diocese to go to another state, or even another country, Love Begins Here is focused on what can be done locally. Every summer, we do five of these missions and they are based within a host parish. It involves young people with their chaperones and our core teams going out to different homes within the parish boundaries where people need assistance.”
According to Kowalski, Love Begins Here events will take place this summer in Appleton June 7-10; in Green Bay June 21-25; in Antigo June 28-July 1; in Shiocton July 6-8; and in Kaukauna July 12-16. In preparation for this summer’s events, the Child and Youth Faith Formation Office will hold training sessions for core team members.
“The training takes place five to seven days before the first Love Begins Here camp,” said Kowalski. “This year, we will be staying as a close-knit core team at a facility in Shawano, not far from Camp Tekakwitha.” Training will include guest speakers, plus an evening with Bishop David Ricken.
The core team members consist of young adults, typically 21 years old or older, said Kowalski, who have been interviewed and selected as leaders for the Love Begins Here mission trips. “The Bishop’s Appeal funds not only training but also the salaries of the core team during the summer,” she added.
Another youth outreach initiative which the diocese offers high school students is the Green Bay Youth Conference.
Last year, the conference was held for the first time at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, said Cabey.
“The message that Adele (Brise) received from Our Lady was to gather the children in this wild country … so we brought in some national speakers,” said Cabey. “We had one of the same bands that plays at Steubenville Youth Conferences. We did all of that for $15 per person. The Bishop’s Appeal made that possible.”
The conference attracted about 670 people, added Cabey. This year’s conference will be held at the shrine on Dec. 6. “We’re hoping for 800 people,” he added.