by Katie Peterson
Special to The Leaven
ROSSVILLE — From family rosaries to Scripture study to simply checking in on each other — that’s what Zoom Video Communications is allowing the Northeast Kansas Rural Youth Council to do during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s just the hugest blessing right now, especially,” said Angie Bittner, rural youth ministry outreach coordinator for the archdiocese. “But it’s always something in rural outreach that we’ve been grateful for — the chance to connect with each other even though we can’t physically be together.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Bittner has been connecting with both her NEKRYC children and her own youth group at St. Stanislaus Church in Rossville. They have had routine check-ins to see if there is anything someone needs praying for and to discuss Scripture passages from previous meetings.
This way, they can remain connected to other youth who keep their Catholic faith close to their heart, particularly the NEKRYC group, which includes 16 teens from 14 rural parishes across the archdiocese.
“It’s easy to feel isolated. We’re already aware of that,” Bittner said. “Even if you have people in your homes or the kids are going to school regularly in normal times, sometimes they feel alone in their faith.
“They don’t necessarily have friends that are aiming for the same thing they are, so this connection — especially among these rural council kids — they just long for that connection,” she said. “They long for connection with kids who are aiming to be in a relationship with the Lord and to help lead others closer to him.”
Emma Elder, an 18-year-old NEKRYC member and parishioner of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca, said being away from her friends has been difficult, but her faith has helped her.
“My faith has played a big role in keeping me positive during this time,” Elder said. “I try to wake up every day and find little things I am grateful for, such as having a warm bed to sleep in and family that loves me.
“I’ve also been trying to spread more joy to others throughout this time, by calling others via phone or FaceTime and sending out lots of funny memes.”
“I’ve learned that I am a person that cannot be without other humans,” she continued. “In other words, I’m super-social. I’m also a hugger, so the social distancing is a struggle.
“But I’ve learned that, through any bad thing, you can always find the silver lining. God truly is amazing even though it may not seem like it in hard times.
“We just have to keep believing.”
St. Stanislaus Youth Group member Anna Schuckman, 17, said being able to stay in touch with her fellow youth group members through Zoom has been amazing.
“I am very close with a ton of people from youth group,” Schuckman said. “We talk about our struggles and how we can pray for one another, along with how we can help our communities.
“Faith is important to me because of the unconditional love,” she continued. “We will always be searching for something until we find and know [God’s] love.”
Zoom isn’t the only way these communities are staying connected.
Elder said she and her friends did a little act of kindness when they found out that school was going to be canceled for the rest of the school year.
“We went and bought 16 slushies from Sonic and drove around giving them to people who had had a rough year or who were going through a rough time,” Elder said. “[By] just that little act of kindness, I could tell that I was making someone’s day better.”
Bittner said the Rossville and Silver Lake communities are working to connect to the elderly as well, who aren’t as comfortable with technology.
“We are physically going to tape letters on their doors so that we maintain safe contact,” Bittner said. “We’re just letting people know how they can get groceries and how they can get help if they need it.”
All in all, Bittner said the message of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann at the October 2019 “Enflame Our Hearts” convocation is coming alive more than ever in both the NEKRYC and Rossville/Silver Lake communities.
“Would we even have the chance to enflame hearts, enflame communities, like we’re going to in the upcoming weeks?” Bittner asked. “Our lives are way too crammed to make the time that God deserves for us to do that.”
But the pandemic has forced everyone to step back from our normal lives, and “to really connect our hearts with [God].”
“We don’t know how this is going to unfold. So just be open to that which the Holy Spirit is placing on our hearts,” she said. “We just need to be open to the needs of our people and everybody around us.”
For more information about the NEKRYC, go online here.