by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven
Totus Tuus is more than a modern take on the traditional summer vacation Bible school.
Among its many distinctions, Totus Tuus has deep roots in devotion to the Eucharist and Our Lady, and it draws upon the powerful witness of the young adults who conduct the sessions.
Faith, fun and forming relationships are foundational to this program offered annually to youth in parishes across the archdiocese.
Father Jaime Zarse, director of the archdiocesan program, believes that Totus Tuus offers a phenomenal experience for first through 12th grade participants. He credits Our Lady as responsible for the program. Just as St. John Paul II had great love for the Blessed Mother and adopted “Totus Tuus” (“Totally Yours”) as his papal motto, the namesake summer program seeks to expose youth to devotion to Mary and — through her — lead them to a deepening relationship with Jesus.
Father Zarse is very impressed with the 18- to 25-year-old “missionaries” who facilitate Totus Tuus.
“Through their joyful witness, these young adults are true disciples of and for Jesus Christ,” he said. “Young participants are drawn to the witness of these college-aged students who are very relatable.”
Fourteen parishes across the archdiocese hosted the weeklong Totus Tuus program this summer. The evening sessions from Sunday to Thursday engaged seventh through 12th graders; daytime schedules from Monday through Friday were geared to younger children. Two teams of four missionaries have conducted the program in two parishes each week from June 12 through Aug. 5 with a break in between.
Promoting the faith
Totus Tuus sessions share the Gospel and promote the Catholic faith through catechetical instruction, Christian witness, vocational discernment, Marian devotion and eucharistic worship. Father Zarse noted the value of this for youth who may be uncatechetized and unfamiliar with prayers and expressions of faith. Totus Tuus strives to strengthen the faith and understanding of all participants.
With a changing curriculum each summer, the program teaches basic tenets of the Catholic faith through examination of the Apostles’ Creed, the mystery of salvation, the sacraments, the commandments, prayer, virtues and mysteries of the rosary. The schedule includes daily Mass for first through sixth graders, and eucharistic adoration, opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation and time for prayer for all ages.
Acknowledging the good work of School of Religion programs during the academic year, Father Barry Clayton, pastor of three parishes in the Southern Region of the archdiocese, described Totus Tuus as “a wonderful extra boost of faith. It is a time of faith and fun. Positive, good experiences tied to our faith are helpful for kids; they seem to help them integrate the faith into their lives.”
Fun, faith, fellowship
Fun is a major element of the overall program. This includes morning “pump-ups,” skits and songs, recess and water fights for younger participants, and a social event for middle and high school students.
In his second year as a missionary, Anton Johnson, member of Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner and a graduate student at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, appreciates that Totus Tuus gives participants the chance to see that the Catholic faith is actually fun. He enjoys observing ways the kids’ faith grows over the five-day period.
Fellowship is another key component of Totus Tuus. Parish families host the missionaries in their homes during the program. Wednesday evening features a potluck to give all parishioners the chance to catch the spirit of the program. Nightly sessions for older youth encompass faith formation, social interaction and mentoring.
Backbone of the program
Father Zarse considers the young adult missionaries the backbone of the program. He credits prayer, rosaries and outreach for success in recruiting a higher quality of missionaries from colleges and seminaries across the country.
After being interviewed and accepted for these positions, the young adults complete a weeklong “boot camp” training in the Wichita Diocese. They learn about lesson plans, classroom management, being part of a team and etiquette for living with host families. They study the faith in preparation for their catechetical roles.
Their faith formation continues as the missionaries pray and interact with one another, youth participants and priests. In his eagerness to support Totus Tuus, Father Zarse makes a weekly visit to each parish location. He serves as spiritual director and confessor for team members and strives to be readily available to them.
Ellen Glynn, member of Sacred Heart Parish in Sabetha and student at Benedictine College in Atchison, is impressed by the incredible sacrifice that this mission requires, along with the opportunity to build relationships with team members and program participants.
Likewise, Anthony Scroggins, from the Diocese of Phoenix and a student at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, admires his fellow missionaries for making the sacrifice to be available all summer in order to give the youth a fun-filled experience of the faith.
“My greatest joy,” he said, “is when a kid comes up to me and tells me something about the faith or asks a question about something they find interesting.”
Father Anthony Chendumalli, pastor of three parishes in the Nemaha-Marshall Region, encourages other parishes to host the program.
“Totus Tuus is a great program to keep all of our parish children and youth together and to teach them about God and faith,” he said. “Kids will love it, and moreover, they will learn how to pray and [learn] more about the spiritual life, too.
“I was surprised to see many children show up, and their parents encourage them to participate in Totus Tuus. I received positive feedback from the children as well as from their parents.”