Program for youths underscores importance of religion
Last week, Mike White prayed more than usual.
It wasn't because he had a sick relative or friend. The incoming Eudora freshman was simply getting closer to his Catholic religion.
"I don't go to church more often," the 14-year-old said. "I just pray more."
White was not the only youth in Eudora who learned more about his Catholic faith.
More than 60 first- through 12th-graders joined White for the weeklong Totus Tuus program at Holy Family Church.
Totus Tuus, Latin for "Totally Yours," has taken place all over Kansas and the Midwest, but the program was a first for the Eudora church.
Sister Marcella Schrant, O.S.U., first heard about the program a year ago when she was at the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center in Lawrence.
Youths came from all over northeast Kansas, including Lawrence and Olathe.
The program, which lasted from Sunday to Friday, cost parents $20 per child, but the parish had to pay $1,500 for the team of four college students -- two young men and two young women -- who led the program.
But Schrant said the program was worth the cost.
"We don't have a Catholic school and this would be a good way for kids to learn about their religion and in a fun way," Schrant said. "The parish thought it would be worth it, and I think it was. The kids seem to be really enjoying it."
Kevan O'Shea, one of the leaders, said the program was important to get the youth involved in their religion.
"Pope John Paul II said, 'The youth are not the future of the Church, they are the Church,'" he said. "We really like getting the youth involved."
During the day the group focused on teaching the younger children proper behavior at Mass and the importance of faith, such as why they believe what they believe, O'Shea said.
But from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. the college students were able to relax on couches as they talked to high school students about how to apply the Catholic faith in everyday life.
O'Shea enjoys talking with high school students because they provide a more laid-back atmosphere, but he said you couldn't go wrong when talking to little children. That partly has to do with his plans to become an elementary teacher.
"You never know what's going to come out of the grade schoolers' mouths, and it's always fun," said O'Shea, who will be a junior at Benedictine College in Atchison.
For the most part, the younger children enjoyed making new friends and playing kickball during recess. But they did take away a piece of the religion they wouldn't forget, and most of them want to participate again.
Nicholas Hinkel, 6, Lawrence, said he enjoyed coloring pictures of the holy saints. He also was looking forward to a water fight two days before it happened on Friday.
James Topliker, 11, made several new friends but he said he really liked the discussion about loving each other. That moral was important to learn because it will apply to the rest of his life, he said.
"You don't have to like someone," the Olathe sixth-grader said. "But you have to love them."
Samantha Pippert, 11, Eudora, liked the red, white and blue strings that represented the rosary, which she tied around her wrist. The white represented the annunciation, the blue was for the visitation and the red symbolized the nativity.
Pippert also said the younger leaders made the activities more fun.
"They act more like us -- crazy," she said.
White said the group of college leaders also made the program more fun for the high school kids and encouraged him to return throughout the week.
"At first my mom told me I had to go. Then I decided to go on my own because I found it pretty fun," he said. "I think these guys have a lot more in common with us than a 40-year-old person."
White said he hoped the program would continue next year.
As does Andi Bock, a mother from Eudora whose three kids participated.
"It's been a joyous experience," Bock said. "We had no idea it was going to be this great."
The group began its Totus Tuus tour in May. Each week they travel to a different city within the boundaries of the Catholic archdiocese of Kansas City. They have this week off for the July 4 holiday, but next week the group will be in Sabetha.
Fr. Bernard Gorgeous of the Wichita archdiocese started the program in 1988. Three years ago, Topeka's Fr. Jerry Volz started the program for the Kansas City archdiocese.
The Kansas City Totus Tuus program is sponsored by the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University.
The Kansas City archdiocese extends as far west as Wamego County, as far south as Emporia and ends at the Nebraska and Missouri borders.
The four student-leaders were: Kevan O'Shea, Topeka, a junior at Benedictine College in Atchison; Kristi Charlson, Lincoln, Neb., who graduated last year from Kansas University; Kristin Kennalley, Wichita, a KU junior; and Barry Clayton, Roeland Park, a Conception student at the seminary in Missouri.