Teens form ‘Los Nuevos Dicipulos’ to grow in faith
by Jessica Langdon
EMPORIA — When young parishioners of St. Catherine Parish here decided they needed a youth group, they didn’t wait around for adults to start one.
“I’ve always wanted something here,” said Emely Magana, who just graduated from Emporia High School. “I’ve been a part of other youth groups, but never anything at this parish — and this is where I grew up.”
She was excited in the summer of 2013 when Kevin Sandoval, who will be a senior this fall, called with an idea: St. Catherine should have a youth group.
Kevin had just returned from a retreat that several other teens from the parish also attended.
“We went as separate individuals, and we gathered money with the help of our parents,” he said.
The retreat was really inspiring, but it would have been nice, in hindsight, to experience it all together.
So Kevin talked to a few friends and his parents about how the parish needed a way for youth to gather, “just a place for everyone to be who they are.”
By the time he shared the idea with Father John Cordes, pastor of St. Catherine and St. Joseph Parish in Olpe, it had already gained good momentum.
“He called me about 3 o’clock and said, ‘Father, we want to start a youth group — we’re going to have a meeting at 4. Can you come?’” recalled Father Cordes, laughing.
He had Mass at 5 p.m., so he encouraged the group to meet anyway and promised to catch up afterward.
“We got together after Mass, and they said, ‘OK, we met, and here’s our name and here’s our slogan,’” he said.
St. Catherine serves a largely Hispanic population in Emporia, and the youth decided to call their group “Los Nuevos Dicipulos” — “The New Disciples.”
They even knew the person they hoped would help lead them.
Amanda Rodriguez, a lifelong parishioner, was out shopping when one of the guys spotted her and spilled the news — they wanted her to be their sponsor.
“They keep me on my toes,” said Rodriguez. “They’re the future of our parish, so it’s nice to see them get involved and to teach them all the aspects of the church — not just going to Mass, but helping with the fundraising part to keep our parish going, and then teaching them to give back to the community.”
For about a year now, teens from seventh grade through high school have been gathering regularly (meeting every other Sunday) to talk about their faith — and to serve others.
Father Cordes found the teenagers’ enthusiasm and initiative refreshing, and his admiration only grew as they started laying out visions for the group.
“One thing I heard quite a bit was, ‘We want to learn more about our faith,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, isn’t that beautiful?’” he said.
They suggested subjects to discuss on note cards.
“One of our first topics that we talked about was the sex topic,” said Marvin Magana, who will be a sophomore.
As awkward as that might seem to discuss among acquaintances, it actually broke the ice.
“I feel like it opened it up for us to not be shy around each other,” said Emely, “and to know that if we had a really awkward question, that it can be talked about here.”
Araceli Madrigal, a 2014 high school graduate, wondered at first what it would be like to have these conversations with their pastor.
She has been impressed with his openness to sharing an adult perspective and the church’s point of view on things.
“These are things that are on their hearts and minds that they want to talk about and think about,” said Father Cordes. “We choose to put it in the light of church teaching, and why the church teaches what she teaches — and with good reason.”
They find that the church offers something more meaningful and beautiful than what the world often gives, he said.
Knowing that priests carry full schedules, the teens appreciate the time Father Cordes dedicates to them.
“Having our own time with Father [Cordes], you know, it’s special,” said Araceli. “He spends a whole hour with us and we talk about different topics.”
“You know you’re in a safe place because everybody else wants to be there and talk about your faith,” said Araceli, appreciating the opportunity to talk about Catholicism with other teenagers.
This group also gives the youth — who have grown up knowing Spanish and attending Mass in Spanish — a chance to discuss things in English, which they understand well and feel comfortable using for these talks, said Emely.
One late-spring Sunday afternoon, the group reviewed that day’s readings — and Father Cordes talked about witnessing to their faith starting at home in Emporia.
They can share their faith through actions as simple as treating others well at school.
That led to talk of transitions. Some of the older members of the group — Araceli and Emely included — will move on as they start college, but they hope to stay connected in some way.
At the younger end of the spectrum, eighth-graders will be heading to high school.
Chase Johnson, a volunteer who attends Emporia State University, told them all that as they experience new things in life, their faith is one thing that doesn’t change — no matter where they are in the world.
Mackenzie Baza, who will be a freshman in high school, likes how this group brings together a good range of ages.
“It’s nice to see the older perspective and then the young perspective,” she said.
“I love being part of this group,” said Amy Guillen, who will also be in ninth grade. “I feel really comfortable with them.”
Sharing the faith
Eduardo Carrillo, who will be a senior, joined the group a while after it started.
“At first, I thought it was going to be sort of boring,” he admitted. “It was actually fun meeting all these people.”
He hopes even more young people in the region will join the group and learn more about their faith.
The youth have already put their faith into action through projects, including food sales, a corsage sale (thanks to a member’s creative talents) and a turkey raffle.
For Easter, the youth — just to give something to the parish — held an Easter celebration, complete with an egg hunt, face painting and a visit from the Easter Bunny.
Seeing them in action, Rodriguez knows that these young people are “not doing something to get something back — it’s to give back for what they already have.”
The youth feel the support of their parish and believe that if they could make this happen here, it could happen in any parish that wants to start a youth group.
Father Cordes sees good hearts among the youth and hopes to show them that not only is it OK as they get older to be Christian and connected to their faith, but it’s necessary.
“I have to say I’m very much inspired by our youth,” said Father Cordes.