March 14, 2014

‘Having a blast’: New sports program for young adult Catholics strives to deepen their connection to faith

Sports set the stage for opportunities to embrace and deepen the faith of young adult Catholics in the archdiocese’s recently started Young Adult Catholic Intramural Program. Members of the Unstop-Purples volleyball team pose for a team picture after a game on March 4. Players are, front row, Jennifer Peterson, left, Veronica Fuentes, Katie Sahm and Sarah Pluckebaum. Back row, Eric Burns, left, Dan Klee, Katie Klee and Jose Del Real. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Sports set the stage for opportunities to embrace and deepen the faith of young adult Catholics in the archdiocese’s recently started Young Adult Catholic Intramural Program. Members of the Unstop-Purples volleyball team pose for a team picture after a game on March 4. Players are, front row, Jennifer Peterson, left, Veronica Fuentes, Katie Sahm and Sarah Pluckebaum. Back row, Eric Burns, left, Dan Klee, Katie Klee and Jose Del Real. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: This story is another in a continuing series about the challenges that young adult Catholics face, the contributions they make to the archdiocese and the broader Church, and the efforts being made by the archdiocese to help them in their faith lives.)
 

By John Shaughnessy

For anyone who loves sports, there’s great joy in being part of a team or watching a team when everything clicks—when all the preparation and effort lead to a magical moment of fulfillment.

Matt Faley has experienced that feeling every Tuesday evening for the past several weeks.

That’s when young adult Catholics pour into the Knights of Columbus building at 13th and Delaware streets in Indianapolis for a groundbreaking program in the archdiocese that uses sports and friendly competition to create a sense of community and a connection to the Catholic faith for young adults.

“This is great,” Faley said while watching two teams compete in volleyball, the first sport offered in the new Young Adult Catholic Intramural Program. “The first time it all came to fruition, it just made me smile. We’ve been trying to do this for two years. It’s just an affirmation that God wanted this to happen.”

The involvement of 115 young adult Catholics and 12 teams in the program’s first sport has been exactly what Faley has hoped for as the archdiocese’s director of young adult and college campus ministry.

“We want to put our efforts into finding our young adults where they are,” said the 31-year-old Faley. “We want to make sure we have opportunities for them to make the Church and the Church community a home for them.

“A program like this is attractive to young adults who have been in the Church but maybe not involved in depth, or those who maybe have been away from the Church for a while. That’s who we’re trying to target. And I can tell you there are a lot of new faces I haven’t seen before, which is good. And they come from all different parishes.”

Consider the team called Unstop-Purples, a team of five young women and three young men who represent the Indianapolis parishes of St. Mary, St. Monica, St. Joan of Arc and Christ the King.

“This is the best idea,” said Veronica Fuentes, 33, a member of the Unstop-Purples team. “We’re sharing our faith. We’re working as a team, but we’re working as a Church, too. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. We pray together before the game, and we pray together after the game. It brings us together. We need to keep this going.”

Even after the team lost its game on March 4, the Unstop-Purples players were all smiles as they hung around together to enjoy some New Orleans-inspired food that the program provided on the evening before Ash Wednesday.

That combination of sports and socializing sets the stage for opportunities to embrace and deepen the Catholic faith—the goals of Faley and Katie Sahm, the archdiocese’s coordinator of young adult ministry.

“For us, the program is all about building relationships, so they can see the Church beyond the church pew, but at the same time to call them to something deeper, to serve the Church more,” Faley said. “We have events in place that cover prayer, service and community. We plan around the intramural schedule so they can get involved.”

On the sidelines of the gymnasium, there’s a display of upcoming faith-related events for young adult Catholics from 18 to 35. The display mentions “First Fridays,” the first Friday of a month when there’s an hour of eucharistic adoration and reflection followed by a dinner and a speaker.

There’s also a sign-up sheet to participate on the archdiocese’s “Race for Vocations” team on May 3 as part of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis.

And information is available about the Theology on Tap summer series. Featuring an informal setting where food and drink are available, the series is designed for young adults to learn more about the Catholic faith and build a sense of community.

Now 23, Krissy Vargo was looking for opportunities for faith and community when she moved to Indianapolis 15 months ago to start a new job.

“When I first moved here, I heard about Indy Catholic, the young adult group, and it was something I wanted to be part of,” said Vargo, now a member of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis. “I’ve been having a blast ever since.”

While she claims her athletic skills aren’t made for volleyball, her outgoing personality is a perfect fit for her role as the “official sideline reporter” for the intramural program. Vargo does videotaped interviews with players following each match.

“I just try to capture the fun of it,” she said. “I try to always incorporate some of the community part and the faith part, too. I think the intramurals are a great idea. There’s a group of people who aren’t ready to step back into the pew yet. This is meeting them halfway. We just want to give people the opportunity to reconnect with their faith.”

For Faley, the focus of the program all leads back to a question that Jesus poses at the beginning of the Gospel according to St. John.

“One of the first things he says to his disciples is, ‘What are you looking for?’ ” Faley said. “We’re trying to create an encounter where they can really answer that question.”

Faley shares the story of how the intramural program—which will expand to more sports in the future—has made a difference to one of the men in his Bible study group.

“He moved to the city about six to eight months ago to take a job here. He was looking for community. He signed up for intramurals on a whim, he didn’t know a soul, and he’s gotten to know his team.

“There’s just been a lot of energy with this program. People are excited it’s happening. There’s just a joy that is building.”
 

(For more information about the Young Adult Catholic Intramural Program or other events and opportunities involving the archdiocese’s Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, visit the website, www.indycatholic.org. Questions can also be directed to Matt Faley at mfaley@archindy.org, and Katie Sahm at ksahm@archindy.org. Kickball season is scheduled to start the week of May 12.)

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