July 19, 2019

‘Campference’ offers ministry leaders unique lens into discipleship

More than 80 youth ministry leaders from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Lafayette took part in a “Campference” on May 17-19 at Camp Rancho Framasa in Nashville. (Submitted photo by Emily Mastronicola)

More than 80 youth ministry leaders from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Lafayette took part in a “Campference” on May 17-19 at Camp Rancho Framasa in Nashville. (Submitted photo by Emily Mastronicola)

By Mike Krokos

BROWN COUNTY—It was billed as a “campference”—a combination of a camp, a conference and a retreat.

And thanks to two youth ministry leaders—one from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the other from the Diocese of Lafayette—more than 80 youth ministers, directors of religious education, campus ministry leaders and youth ministry volunteers from the two dioceses gathered at Camp Rancho Framasa in mid-May for a Catholic Youth Ministry weekend of discussion, prayer, challenges and fun.

“Myself and Paul Sifuentes, my counterpart in the Diocese of Lafayette, had always been brainstorming different ideas about how we can develop and further the mission of youth ministry,” explained Scott Williams, who at the time of the gathering served as youth ministry director for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“We decided on this camp model because it breaks down some barriers that might have existed before,” he continued, “and it allows [people] to be vulnerable.”

Like Williams, Sifuentes said providing formation for youth leaders in the Lafayette diocese is a priority. Because sending them to a national gathering can be expensive, “we wanted to able to bring that conversation to a local level,” he said.

“Oftentimes, there is a top-down mentality of ministry. Someone at the top knows everything, and then disseminates it to everybody else. That’s not how we do ministry—ever,” continued Sifuentes, who serves as the youth and young adult formation specialist for the Diocese of Lafayette. “We wanted to create more of a groundswell because there are a lot of experts here with us. … They’re experts in ministry to the youth in front of them.”

Nationally known youth ministry leaders Doug Tooke, director of Ministry for ODB Films, author Katie Prejean McGrady and Darius Villalobos, director of Multicultural Ministry for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, also attended the weekend to share their insights on how those ministering to the young Church can help nurture their lives of faith.

Julie Albertson, director of youth ministry at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, said she hoped attending the retreat would assist her in her outreach to young people.

“I think it’s always important to take advantage of opportunities like this to grow, to learn, and especially to have time to spend in fellowship with people that are doing similar work,” she said. “There’s so much to learn. I have so much to learn, and there are so many terrific presenters that have gathered this weekend, and I’m eager to get a little taste of what they have to offer, and just to do what I do better.”

Albertson said today’s youth ministers face many challenges.

“I think that it’s a challenge to capture the imagination of our young people in such a way that they really want to take a deep dive into our faith,” she said. “We are competing for their attention, and while I encounter so many sincere young people, they are also faced with what they believe are realities about our Church that are not necessarily true.

“That’s what they hear, that’s what they read, that’s what they see,” Albertson continued. “I have a great burden to do a better job of communicating the faith, our faith to young people, in love, but also in gentleness. That’s part of the way I feel I need to communicate our faith. … There’s so many things, particularly in social issues, that kids are confronted with and confronted by, and we have to have a loving response.”

Ryan Hillman, director of evangelization at St. Lawrence Parish in Lafayette, Ind., in the Diocese of Lafayette, said he appreciated what the retreat experience offered.

“It’s being with other people, sharing the faith, getting new ideas. … Me hearing new ideas, that’s helped recharge me a little bit,” he said.

He added there were other takeaways as well.

“It’s about taking charge, being a leader, setting a good example and being 100 percent into the ministry of bringing people to Christ,” Hillman said.

Rachel Witt, a confirmation catechist at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette, Ind., in the Lafayette diocese, said the advice she gleaned during the retreat was invaluable.

“Be brave, be holy, and move on. Solidarity helps with that,” she said. “The feeling that you’re not alone, that’s a big issue. This is an opportunity to be with other people who believe what you believe and want what you want.”

Like Pope Francis, Williams used the word “accompaniment” to describe what he hoped the weekend was like for participants.

“A lot of the conversations will be around ‘how do we accompany, how do we journey with’ young people in today’s world, in today’s culture, here in Indiana,” he said.

“I hope they come away with something tangible to bring home with them. I hope they feel empowered.”

Sifuentes agreed.

“I hope they come away with a sense of what discipleship looks like in their parish.” †

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