“Igniting” Hearts of Young People in COVID Times

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It should be no surprise that our Ignite Youth and Young Adult Ministry across the country was a little short circuited this past year due to COVID-19.  However, despite the unusual circumstances and turn of events, Ignite, a program of Redemptorist Youth and Vocation Ministry, as continued to be an active driving force for outreach to youth and young adults across Canada in dynamic and creative ways.  I offer an overview of where we have been over the last several months.

Ignite Volunteers preparing to go out on Street Patrol

Through my work on the General Commission for RYVM in Rome, we worked to produce the revised Guidelines for RYVM for the Congregation.  It is a work that is much reflective of the current pastoral landscape of young people today, and offers and frame work for ministry with young people from the perspective of the Redemptorist Charism.  The document is enriched with the insights of Pope Francis and the Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit (2019).  The revised Guidelines for RYVM was published and made available for download in March 2020, just as the world was shutting down.  This document, however, is a key resource for our Redemptorist Youth and Vocation Ministry Program – Ignite, and will provide for us in Canada a framework to understand, plan and move forward in our work as a Province, as Regions and at the local level.

As gatherings and travel became restrictive due to the pandemic, Ignite had to postpone two major youth and young adult ministry efforts in our Redemptorist Parishes in Saskatoon, SK and St. John’s, NL that were to take place in the late winter and spring.

Instead, we had to immediately turn our attention to the use of social media and web-based programming which included a weekly bible study program, called “Bible and Beer”, a weekly program for connect, support and theological reflection called, “Desert, Not Deserted”, which was aptly named as we began the pandemic lockdown during Lent. We hosted virtual game nights, and developed a series of children’s liturgy videos throughout the Easter Season.  Liz Artymko with the Yorkton Ignite in Winnipeg moved her gatherings and programming online as well, including, “Coffee with the Saints”, community service projects, and “Kindred Spirits” Blog.

Ignite hosting the Toronto Site for Canadian Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies Program

S.E.R.V.E. was launched in the spring as an opportunity for young people across the country to become engaged in active service in their local cities, while participating in our online formation program similar to our formation and community building elements of our regular S.E.R.V.E. program from over the years.  Though we, the team, Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R., and Liz Artymko (Yorkton) were ready to welcome up to 30 young people for this service experience, young people were caught between confirming their participation and trying to guarantee employment for the summer months as different sectors opened up providing employment, and short-term volunteer opportunities were not available for new volunteers due to the pandemic.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to meet our minimum number for enrollment.  It is ironic, that the “concept” of S.E.R.V.E. (encouraging volunteer service, and receiving a stipend at the end of the experience, plus of course the formation for missionary disciples and in Redemptorist Spirituality) made the headlines with similar volunteer program and financial opportunities.  But we won’t go down that road here.

As summer arrived, we were able to gather our young adults for our typical summer activities (with social distancing measures in place), but we knew with fall on the horizon, that we needed to see how to adjust to our times.

Moving into the fall has helped us to “re-ignite” our program offerings. like the establishing the Toronto Site for the Canadian Certificate in Youth Ministry Studies Program, with about 25 people from 10 dioceses and eparchies across the country enrolled for our 3 Fall courses, both in-person and online.

Our Ignite Program has also hosted a 3 part “Watch Party” for the series, “The Chosen” which looks at the life of Jesus through the eyes and experience of the disciples.  A very good contemporary rendition on a “good book”!  All who have joined us have recommended the series widely.

With schools working with major restrictions to extracurricular activities and fieldtrips, our High School Retreat Program in Toronto has had to shift gears after 14 years towards an online virtual retreat format.

Fr. Santo with Redemptorist Volunteer Ministry Volunteers Matthias Beckmann and Peter Berger

Throughout the past year, our Ignite Ministry has been in discussion with the Redemptorist Volunteer Ministry Program from the St. Clement Province in Bonn, Germany.  Each year, about 15 young adults who have completed high school participate in a one-year mission opportunity with Redemptorist Communities throughout the world.  For over 10 years, young adults have been in mission with Redemptorists in the Baltimore Province.  This past September, we welcomed Matthias Beckmann and Peter Berger who arrived in Toronto to work with Ignite (RYVM) and with St. Patrick’s Parish.  When we originally conceived of this opportunity, there was no pandemic to interfere with our plans and programs.  Following their 14 day mandatory quarantine at Redeemer House, Matthias and Peter had been hard at work with many adventures with renovating and moving at Redeemer House to help prepare for the Parish Office to move in during the coming winter, as well as working in the Gift Shop, volunteering at Mustard Seed inner-city ministries, and helping to prepare for our modified Outreach program for street ministry in lieu of our regular “Out of the Cold” program.  Though plans constantly evolve for their experience here in Canada, Matthias and Peter bring with them great energy, desire to serve, and a wealth of knowledge about the Redemptorists and the mission of our Congregation.

As the cold weather is setting in, and our COVID-19 numbers continue to influence our ministry realities and opportunities, we remain optimistic and hopeful that we will continue to carry forward the vision of Ignite, and the mission of the Congregation for young people across the country with new and creative ways.  For more information about Ignite and our ministry with young people across the country, visit our website:  www.ignite-canada.ca

By Fr. Santo Arrigo C.Ss.R., Coordinator of Ignite Ministry

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