By JOEY REISTROFFER
SIMPSONVILLE The future of the Catholic Church looks bright, and one ray of light is shooting forth from the youngsters learning their faith through Life Teen at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville.
Joe Maggio, director of Life Teen at St. Mary Magdalene, said the program started in 1985 in Mesa, Arizona, to address the needs of juveniles.
It began there after a priest learned that one of his young parishioners was leaving the church. The boy said he did not feel loved in the Catholic Church. So the priest created Life Teen to fill that need the neglected youth yearned for.
Maggio said Life Teen gives youths an active role in their parish. They serve during the Mass. They are ushers, lectors, eucharistic ministers, and they even sing in the choir.
At St. Mary Magdalene, the Sunday evening Mass is dedicated to the teen-agers. Then, after the services, they hold meetings and discuss their faith. Those talks bring about a bonding, and true friendships flourish.
“I feel like I belonged in church for the first time,” said Anne Dietz, a senior in Simpsonville. “I’ve made the best friends in the world through Life Teen.”
I’ve come closer to God through Life Teen, said Jennifer Burgess, another youngster whose faith is sprouting.
Maggio said a core group of adults runs the program. They address tough issues and invite teens to air out their feelings. All the while, they teach them the Catholic position on those issues.
One issue those adults tackled with the teens was abortion.
“Sixty teens took part in the abortion talks,” Maggio said, and “some of them were hit very hard.”
Maggio called that session one of the liveliest Teen Life has held. “Some were firm (in their stance),” he said, “Other, their views were changed.”
Even though some issues are hard hitting, the youngsters feel like they belong.
“I’m meeting with peers, worshipping the Lord and learning different points of view,” said Marc McLawhorn, a senior.
“We’re an uncommon group of people thrown together in a loving atmosphere,” Heather Williams added.
Life Teen “helps with problems,” Sarah Isenbarger said. “It’s a great way to get closer to friends and peers through God.”
A group of adults works with the teens as counselors. “They go through a trial period of about four months to see if the teens will take to them,” Maggio said. Once the bond is established, both the teens and the counselors can build on their faith in a trusting atmosphere.
“The teens and the core group interact very well,” Maggio said. “There is a lot of love.”
Life Teen is not all serious. The group known how to have fun. They organize rafting trips; they go on outings to Carowinds; they get together on Tuesdays for an evening of volleyball.
The group also performs service functions for the church, such as helping out a soup kitchens.