April 25, 2014

A Promise to Keep teens honored for mentoring adolescents

Teen mentors for A Promise to Keep listen as Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin addresses them during a luncheon in their honor on April 10 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Teen mentors for A Promise to Keep listen as Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin addresses them during a luncheon in their honor on April 10 at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin addressed the 150 teenagers at a luncheon at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on April 10, he spoke about sexuality.

“The gift of human sexuality is a lot like a fire,” he said. “Fire can do really good things for you. It can warm the house, cook your food, light your path.

“But it can also burn and scar, and finally destroy. It all depends on the decisions you make with that gift.”

These teens—along with 225 additional high school students unable to attend the luncheon—serve as mentors in the archdiocesan A Promise to Keep program. They have decided not just to use that gift wisely, but to encourage younger students to do the same.

Through A Promise to Keep, high school students serve as mentors to junior high school-aged students in Catholic grade schools and religious education programs, speaking to them about the beauty and truth of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality as God intended.

The annual luncheon marked the 19th year that the program has promoted chastity and abstinence to adolescents throughout central and southern Indiana.

“As we begin our 20th year, I am filled with gratitude for the vision of St. Vincent Health and the archdiocese as they partnered to develop the A Promise to Keep program in 1994,” said program director Margaret Hendricks.

“This initiative helps equip thousands of adolescents and teenagers in our archdiocese with the knowledge and support they need to choose a counter-cultural lifestyle of chastity before marriage.

“Through the witness and commitment to virtues and values like self-control and self-discipline, teens are helping build healthier communities while they are helping to promote the Church’s teaching on sexuality,” Hendricks said.

For such an important task, there is more to being a mentor than simply signing up, noted Hendricks.

The students must apply and be accepted into the program. The mentors then meet periodically and are trained by adults on how to present to junior high students on seven specific topics—freedom and peer pressure, media, consequences, assertiveness, sex and drugs, healthy dating and parenthood.

Marianne Anderson, a nurse who worked for several years at a Planned Parenthood abortion center in Indianapolis but is now a pro-life advocate, gave a keynote address supporting the teens’ commitment and example.

“You’re the front line,” she said. “It has to start with you.”

A mentor from each of the five Catholic high schools attending the luncheon shared their thoughts on and experiences with the program.

Sean Myers, a senior at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis and A Promise to Keep mentor, said he did not see himself being involved in the program when he was a freshman.

“But then I talked to my friend, Patrick, who was a senior my freshman year,” Sean explained. “He played sports, was a cool guy, everyone loved him. One time he talked with me about high school. To hear from him that he didn’t drink and party—that was inspiring to me.

“I decided I wanted to be the type of person he was. That’s when I decided to be A Promise to Keep mentor because I saw the impact that just one person had on my life, and I hope I can have that effect on other people.”

Coincidentally, it is the same Patrick that Emily Coffey of Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis mentions in her presentation to younger adolescents.

“My favorite story I like to tell is about my friend, Patrick—the same one Sean mentioned—who is 22 and still carries his [pledge of chastity] card with him in his wallet. The kids really connect to that,” she said.

Kathleen Byers, a senior at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, shared with the group her memory of an underclassman asking her if she was embarrassed to be involved in A Promise to Keep.

“I remember answering that question with a quick ‘no’,” said Kathleen. “My faith and my values are two of the biggest strongholds of my life.

“This program has taught me to be true to myself and to others. It’s taught me how to live a mentally, physically and spiritually happy life.”

Senior Sydney Cabell of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis said that living as a mentor in the program means doing more than presenting to middle school-aged students.

“We display our values through the way we speak with people, the things we say on Twitter and the things we post on Instagram,” she reminded her peers. “I know I have kids follow me [on social media] after a presentation. They look up to us.

“When you teach teens to respect others, they respect themselves and their own bodies. You cannot simply give them words. We try to show them by how we live our lives every day.”

As a child adopted from South Korea at birth, junior Anthony Ryback of Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis said he chooses to live the moral lifestyle that A Promise to Keep promotes in honor of his birth parents.

“I want to honor that ultimate sacrifice [they made to give me up for adoption] by being chaste and staying pure.

“When I get older, I want to be able to look at that special person on the altar and say, ‘I saved myself for you.’ ”

That was the very message Archbishop Tobin sought to promote to the teens.

“When I was in second grade, my father sat me down and talked with me about sexuality,” the archbishop shared. “He described it as a gift.

“Thinking it all over, I decided my dad was right. Sexuality is a gift. It is a gift to be shared with the one you love and the one with whom you’re willing to spend the rest of your life.

“[God] has given us a way, a model to love fully—in the sacrament of marriage. I hope you choose right for yourselves and the ones you love,” Archbishop Tobin said.

“Pray that you can live with this fire in a way that gives glory to God.” †

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