By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – “It’s a little intimidating to say Mass in front of angels.”
Father Chester J. Misiewicz, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, was talking about some of the young people who play a part in youth ministry at the parish.
The ministry is not only to youth, but by them. They were truly playing a part on Epiphany – a star, angels, shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph. At the Sunday Mass the youth were telling the Christmas story through their “Journey of Faith Sing Along Pageant.”
But that’s only part of their story.
“Thank you all for coming to our pageant,” the angels told the congregation Jan. 3, when the other actors, narrators and choir members finished their roles. “And remember, make your journey in life to ‘Love yourself and others as Jesus loves you.’ You will have an amazing journey!”
“Love yourself and others as Jesus loves you” is the parish youth mission statement, written by Maria Reidy, a 10th-grader.
“There was a contest,” Maria told The Catholic Free Press. “They asked us to write down possible mission statements.” Hers won first place and a framed copy now hangs in the church vestibule.
Carol Rutkiewicz, who coordinates the annual Epiphany pageant and teaches religious education classes, said there are more than 40 students in grades 4-10 and they all participated in the contest last winter. The pastoral counsel chose five statements and the students narrowed those down to two.
“The statements were so great that we also had a second place winner,” Mrs. Rutkiewicz explained. Both statements were used in the pageant and both winners got gift certificate to Wooberry Frozen Yogurt, she said.
Second-place winner Lauren Ober, now a fifth-grader and a pageant angel, penned this statement: “To love Jesus, believe, respect and worship with one another.” She said it’s just how you should live your life.
“You should always love Jesus and respect one another, even if you don’t know them,” she said.
How should that be incorporated into religious education?
“Every class you should tell everybody: ‘This is how you should live,’” she replied.
And how does one live this way?
“By praying to him and also praying for other people who don’t have the things we have.”
Maria also said she thought loving others is important, as is “incorporating your faith into daily life.”
How does she hope to do that?
“I really like volunteering,” she said. “I was volunteering at The Mustard Seed a couple months ago.” (She served at this soup kitchen with a group from her parish.) She said she’s in the confirmation class, and students are encouraged to incorporate their faith into their lives and help others.
Her brother, Christopher Reidy, a grade 9 pageant narrator, said Brenda Maxwell was in charge of religious education, that Suzanne McFadden just took over and “we have a lot of volunteer teachers.”
“They also incorporate things like pageants, retreats,” he said. “They try to make it more enjoyable for the kids” – to get them to attend religious education and church.
“We host youth ministry’s Mass where we have the kids” lector and take up the collection, he said.
He said they collected money for Heifer International to buy a goat for the hungry, and canned goods with which they stocked the food pantry at Pernet Family Health Service, where they got a tour and learned about the agency’s programs. The students also made baskets of snacks and Bingo cards for residents of St. Mary Health Care Center and played Bingo with them, he said.
“I would like to see us, in the new year,” be active in the community like this, Christopher said, suggesting “class field trips to go help others.”
It was especially wonderful to see so many children and youth of the parish giving everyone else something to think about, Father Misiewicz said after the pageant.
“You did a wonderful job of teaching us,” he told the youth, and invited them to “continue to come and enrich our lives by your presence here at Blessed Sacrament.” Later in the Mass he added a prayer of thanks for them and Mrs. Rutkiewicz, and thanked the children’s choir that sang.
Mrs. Rutkiewicz said the parish is trying to include youth ministry in the religious education program for grades 5 through 10. (The younger students are busy preparing for first penance and first Communion.)
She said she prepared her students in the grade 5 and 6 religious education classes for the pageant and went to the junior high and high school classes to recruit older students.
“We want to have more older kids involved … because after confirmation they feel like they don’t need it (the Church) anymore,” she said. “It’s not important to them anymore. I want to make it important while I have them … and help their parents build their faith.”
She said this week they had a pizza party for the students in grades 7 to 10. They had an open discussion about this and previous pageants, and most importantly, the life-long journey of faith.