Totus Tuus youth catechesis program to introduce the riches of the faith
Evie Sue Ward had a typical faith experience as a youth. By middle school she had questions about the Church and God. She found answers at Totus Tuus, a summer catechesis program.
Led by college students and seminarians, Totus Tuus has the elements of a vacation Bible school and parish mission, with a focus on sharing the Gospel and promoting the faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and eucharistic worship.
"I saw these college students in love with their faith," said Ward, now a full-time youth minister at Ascension Parish in Chesterfield. In adoration, she connected with God. When she asked questions about her faith — even ones about sexuality — the program leaders didn't hesitate to answer, diving into resources such as Theology on the Body.
"They approached me where I was at," Ward said. "If you don't understand Church teaching, the faith can be really hard. That's where bad catechesis comes from — when we shy away from the tough questions."
Next summer, Totus Tuus will make its debut in parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The weeklong program is offered as a day program for first through sixth graders and as an evening program for seventh through twelfth graders. Catechists will travel from parish to parish and stay with host families while presenting the program.
Lessons for younger children include learning how to pray and the importance of prayer and the sacraments, and how to participate in Mass, including why we make the sign of the cross, genuflect and sing. Middle and high school teens will focus on prayer and meditation, small group discussions, adoration, Mass and Reconciliation.
Because it is taught by a trained staff of young adults, the program will take some of the strain of parishes hosting their own catechesis programs for youths, said Joe Dobrynski, coordinator of faith programs with the Office of Youth Ministry. While there will be a lot to learn during the week, there also will be plenty of time for fun, too. Large-scale water fights, barbecues and social outings, such as bowling, promise to make their way into the schedule.
"It's making (catechesis) accessible, but not sacrificing the riches of the faith," Dobrynski said. "These are young adults who have had an encounter with Christ and are inviting others into a relationship with Christ."
Totus Tuus started in the 1980s when Father Bernard X. Gorges taught a catechetical summer program to elementary grade students as a seminarian with the Diocese of Wichita. Over the years, the program expanded to other dioceses. The program was marketed nationally in 2016 and is now offered in 26 dioceses across North America. The program's name is Latin for "Totally Yours," and was St. John Paul II's motto, taken from St. Louis de Montfort's "True Devotion to Mary." The program has a noted Marian focus, with a different theme chosen every year ("Chosen" is the 2017 theme) that ties back into Marian devotions, such as the Rosary.
In college, Ward served on a Totus Tuus team for one summer in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Now, as a youth minister, she said she owes a lot to the program in how it helped form her in the faith. "People say it's like VBS (vacation Bible school) on steroids," she said. It's more than "Jesus loves you," she said, but also, "here's how we know that. It's going deeper. As a college student I helped younger students and they weren't afraid of going deep."
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