CSI: Educating youth to be instruments of God’s peace

June 12, 2012

On the first day of this year, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his message on the celebration of the World Day of Peace and entitled it “Educating Young People In Justice and Peace.” Pope Benedict devotes his message to youth because of his “conviction that the young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world.”

Many youth in the Galveston-Houston area are readily in service to others. Many schools and community-oriented groups make service an additional program or incentive to add to their students’ achievements. Most every parish and parish school in the Archdiocese offer youth service opportunities; some critically offer a comprehensive formation on peace and justice.

Joey Harvey, Associate Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for Epiphany of the Lord, talks about their opportunities for youth: 
“This past Good Friday, more than 40 high school students participated in a 24-hour famine to raise awareness for the poor and hungry. With encouragement from Monsignor Jack Dinkins, students participated in Stations of the Cross and Veneration of the Cross. Then, they toured our Outreach Center while learning about justice and peace for those who go without basic needs in the Katy area. They helped unload and stock up on canned goods for our Food Closet which passes out food to our St. Vincent de Paul clients. The students’ immersion experience of 24 hours without eating allows them to be more familiar with those suffering and to work towards justice and peace. 

“We also strive to teach youth in a way that link their Faith Formation to what they encounter at school, home and with friends. Our weekly youth gatherings called JAM (Jesus and Me) discuss the Gospel and how it relates to students in today’s society. Recently we reviewed the Gospel of John 15:27, ‘Peace I leave you; my peace I give you.’ After praying with scripture, we discussed ways we can be ‘instruments of God’s peace’ as St. Francis teaches us. The night concluded with a prayer for peace in our lives.”

At St. Pius X High School, Claudia Somerville, Assistant Director of the Office for Campus Ministry & Justice Education & Service Learning Coordinator, said they teach their youth to fully discern service learning.

St. Pius X High School’s model for service learning, Christian Service Learning, starts in the spring semester of the students’ junior year and continues until the fall semester of their senior year,” she said. “Students will serve 100 hours in one or two agencies. This allows students to build a relationship with the agency and clients they serve. The junior class is divided into small groups of 10 to 12 students. These groups, facilitated by our faculty and staff, have four meetings that focus on personal reflection, understanding service from a Christian perspective, researching agencies, prayerful contemplation of where they are called, evaluation of the process and personal growth. The course is completed by writing a guided reflection paper about their experience.

“We avoid using the term ‘service project,’ because we believe that service is a way of life, not just a project. We do not call their service ‘work’ but rather ‘service experience.’ During the junior retreat, seniors who have completed their CSL share their own experience of service giving juniors a varied perspective of service. We involve the parents in the process by holding a preliminary class where all the course goals and objectives are explained to both parents and students.”

The Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry offers a week-long immersion experience to educate youth on peace and justice; the experience is called Catholic Summer Immersion, better known as CSI. CSI is a multidimensional formation that offers youth an opportunity to experience, learn and discern their role in upholding peace and justice in their community. The program is offered every summer and has a three-year cycle of learning. The first year is centered on Catholic Social Teachings. The second adds the Corporal Works of Mercy (offered this year) and the third is centered on the Beatitudes. 

CSI includes education of peace and justice, a communal and a spiritual dimension. Each year CSI provides the theme central teachings through adult leaders, speakers from various communities of service as well as priests who celebrate sacraments with the youth. In addition, the youth perform service at several agencies and venues including the Food Bank, Catholic Charities and St. Vincent de Paul. In small groups, the youth network and share their parish experiences of peace and justice, spend time in prayer and reflect on the service performed and people they have served. One of the CSI goals is to empower youth to return to their parish to assist their youth ministry leaders in creating and experience a similar program at their own parish. 

What other peace and justice formation opportunities can we offer the youth of this Archdiocese? †

Norma Torok is an Associate Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry