By Emily Booker
A new program in the Diocese of Knoxville is guiding teens to learn more about Catholicism, gain strength through eucharistic adoration, and grow in holiness through the sacrament of reconciliation. Catholic Teens United meets monthly at area host parishes for an afternoon of learning, prayer, and fellowship.
Christine Kear, coordinator of Catholic Teens United, said the program grew out of a need she saw for teens to be encouraged and engaged in their faith. She had noticed that many teens were leaving the faith or were still involved but didn’t really understand what the Church believed on topics such as abortion, homosexuality, and chastity. She and other parents wanted to find a way to keep their kids from fading away from the Church.
“My whole fire behind being on this mission is to get our kids excited about their faith and to educate them so that they’ll stick with it,” she said.
Ms. Kear found other parents who felt the same way, and now a committee of about 20 people helps organize the monthly gatherings.
Catholic Teens United aims to be a diocesan-wide gathering, not another youth group.
“Being Catholic, we have a whole diocese where we should be uniting more, so that’s something we need to continue working on. So we keep trying to reach out and get more parishes involved,” Ms. Kear said.
By having different parishes host each month, teens learn more about the diocese and meet other practicing Catholics.
“Being Catholic and being part of a diocese, I wanted the kids to recognize just how many Catholic kids there are, and not to feel separated parish by parish. So the idea was to bring together the teens around the diocese to come together and really see the expanse of Catholicism,” she added.
Kimberly Saucedo, a student at Maryville High School, said she enjoyed seeing teens from other parishes all in one place.
“I like having all the teens united, because, you know, there’s not a lot of Catholics around East Tennessee, but coming here you see more Catholics. It feels different [from youth group] because you have a speaker, and they tell you more about their experience and their faith, and you have more people that are from different churches, so you can meet more people from other churches, too.”
Each month a speaker talks to the teens on a relevant topic. That is followed by eucharistic adoration, where the teens also have an opportunity to go to reconciliation. After that is time for snacks and fellowship; there are questions about the topic for teens to discuss among their peers in a casual setting.
With school, sports, and other extracurricular activities, it can be difficult for teens to regularly access the sacrament of reconciliation, and Ms. Kear noted that many have never attended adoration. But she’s found that the teens are excited about both.
“I like being a part of the adoration and being able to go to reconciliation without having to drag my whole family along,” said Taylor Breeden, a homeschool student in the 11th grade. “I like that there are a bunch of teens here.”
“We saw these kids really are hungry for the sacraments,” Ms. Kear said. “So the point of this was to make it very Catholic. It’s not just a typical youth group. I wanted to get the kids back to the sacraments and give them the opportunity for adoration, which many of the kids had never even gone to before. This is a way to get them back to their true Catholic faith and stay connected.”
The Catholic Teens Untied committee consults priests, youth ministers, and directors of religious education for suggestions of speakers who know the faith and can relate well with the teens. Jimmy Mitchell spoke at the inaugural gathering on Sunday, Nov. 11, at St. John Neumann Church in Farragut.
Andy McNutt, a former Baptist youth minister who converted to Catholicism, spoke at the Dec. 9 Catholic Teens United meeting at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. Mr. McNutt, who is formerly of Knoxville and now lives in Memphis, has spoken on EWTN several times about his conversion.
Mr. McNutt spoke to the teens about questions they may have encountered from non-Catholic Christians about Catholicism. He explained what he had been taught about Catholics as a Baptist and how the teens can defend their beliefs and answer questions from friends.
“Hopefully that will equip the kids to better understand why they’re Catholic and—you know it’s the Bible Belt down here—how to discuss it among so many in their face with a lot of questions from Baptists and other denominations,” Ms. Kear said.
Mary Donahue, a ninth-grader at Knoxville Catholic High School, said she liked Mr. McNutt’s talk and how he encouraged them to not just accept what they were taught when they were younger but to know why they know it to be true.
“When you’re young, you’re taught everything you know, and when you get older you can branch out and figure out what you truly believe in and why you believe in that stuff.”
Right now, Catholic Teens United has no budget and relies solely on volunteers, including its speakers. Ms. Kear would like to be able to host big-name speakers a couple of times a year to draw in more participants.
“We are looking for people or businesses that would be willing to sponsor our program, sponsor a speaker to come,” she said. “Our kids are bombarded with so much negativity out there, and they’re exposed to a lot, so my point with these talks is to really expose them to the truth and some kind of earth-shattering information that interests them and is unique to Catholicism.”
The next Catholic Teens United will take place Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2 p.m. at St. John Neumann Church.