Tag Archives: Youth

Peer-group rap – key to inspiring youth chastity

As a high school sophomore, Mary Rayer wasn’t too sure about the catholic church’s teaching on chastity, but a presentation by the Culture Project changed her thinking – and her life.

“It shook me to the core,” she said. “I thought, ‘wow, this is intriguing. I want to dive deeper into it and know more about it.’”

Now a 21-year-old senior at Temple University, Rayer is living what she learned from Culture Project missionaries who visited her school as part of an apostolate started in 2014. Since its inception, the culture project has taken its message of restoring culture through the experience of virtue to more than 150,000 young people like Rayer in 52 dioceses.

Legates are linked in

Legate Mike McCartney, a father of seven and an avid Culture Project supporter, has seen the apostolate at work in his parish of St. Joan of Arc in Toledo, OH. “You’ve got these sharp, clear-eyed and, by the world’s standard, attractive young people who are passionate for the faith and passionate for youth and talking the truth. They’ve got a well-prepared testimony that they can deliver with crispness and vitality and the kids love it.”

McCartney said that was abundantly clear to him as he observed several of his own children interacting over dinner with members of a Culture Project team following a presentation to the parish youth group. “They have a vantage point with the kids that we don’t. We have a great relationship with all our kids, but I know that they hear a message from The Culture Project in a context and word that is different from ours. It’s so reinforcing. They’re supporting what we are trying to inculcate in our kids at home, but it’s coming from a 22 or 24-year-old, not a 64-year-old. So it’s got more relevance for them and is fresh and relatable. That’s what I love about it as a parent. They’re partners for us in our children’s formation, an extension of everything we’re trying to do that’s good.”

Cristina Barba, who founded The Culture Project in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after working in evangelization and speaking about pro-life issues and chastity, said the most effective aspect of the apostolate’s work is the witness given by missionaries. “Middle school students and high school students are seeing young people who are just a few years older than they are and who are alive, living the faith and joyful . . . They’re relatable, credible witnesses and I think the young people are ready to listen to them. They want guidance and a lot aren’t getting it.”

Deacon Gary Rudemiller, a Culture Project supporter and Legate from Lexington, KY, agreed. “Our culture is very strongly against anything that’s godly and our children these days are pummeled with secular ideologies, alternative lifestyles, and alternative gender ideologies. There’s nothing good coming from our mass media that’s going to lead a child to have a healthy relationship with God or Jesus Christ.” Furthermore, Rudemiller said, The Culture Project is reaching a demographic – middle and high school students – that apostolates geared toward college students and young adults do not. “We hear kids are being exposed to pornography as early as 8 or 9. We can’t wait till they get to college to reach them. We need to teach them virtue early.”

Partnering with parents

He added that many parents may not be equipped to instruct their younger children in virtue because they have been affected by the culture as well. “They need help making sure they’re planting the seeds of virtue because kids are made in the image and likeness of God. Virtue is something our culture seems to want to step upon and trample into the ground and groups like The Culture Project are elevating virtue.”

Barba said the apostolate strongly encourages parents to have conversations with their children about the topics the missionaries cover in their presentations. Especially at Christmas, she said, when the emphasis tends to be on material gifts, she urges parents to invest in their children in another way by taking time to focus on their relationships. “Kids want to hear from their parents more than they act like they want to . . .. We tell [parents] you want to provide for your children in material ways, but to please think about what is most important and what you value most and invest in these conversations and let them know they can talk to you.”

Inspired by lapsed Catholics

Before starting The Culture Project, Barba said she had been struck while traveling in Europe by how many people had turned away from the Catholic Church because of misunderstanding its teaching on marriage, family, life, and sex. From that emerged her plan to send missionaries out with a universal message for a secularized culture through talks on sexual integrity, friendship, and relationships.

Although the missionaries give well-honed presentations with good content, Barba believes their effectiveness stems from the commitment each makes to daily Mass and a Eucharistic holy hour and living in community. “That is priceless,” she said. “I know when I’m sending a team into a diocese, they’re getting young men and women who are living holiness and in a community that’s going to call them out if they’re not.”

Friending youth with truth

Missionaries present themselves to young people as a group of friends who believe in what the Church has to offer, Barba added. Since the apostolate began, she said, more than 50 young people have responded to that call and many have gone on to live out the message they proclaim by marrying and starting families or entering the priesthood or religious life.

As someone who has coached high school students and teaches Confirmation classes, Legate Dan Vogl said he knows Culture Project missionaries relate well to young people. “Their approach, their youth, joyfulness, and excitement about what they’re doing is contagious.” He said Culture Project missionaries sacrifice both time and treasure and essentially put their lives on hold not only to empower their own lives through truth, but to share what they believe with others. “This is a cause that doesn’t necessarily have immediate rewards, but they hope they can make a difference over generations.”

Still, as is evident from the testimonies of Rayer and others, Culture Project missionaries do know that their messages have had an impact. One high school senior from the Toledo diocese, for example, said, “Your talk tonight has given me so much insight on how a true and pure relationship should be . . . . I never truly knew what chastity meant or what it was. You have helped open my eyes to my own relationship and how it may not be as healthy as I thought it was.”

Vogl, who with his wife, Ayde, got involved in supporting the apostolate through San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, said in a time when it is difficult to be countercultural he sees in The Culture Project young people breaking the mold. “Our culture teaches immediate gratification and that is a recipe for disaster. The Culture Project is fighting that. I applaud them.”

Culture Project teams are currently serving in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where the apostolate is based, in the Los Angeles and San Francisco archdioceses, and the Toledo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh dioceses.

For more information about The Culture Project, contact Julie Pesusich through www.thecultureproject.org.

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Summit speakers reveal how families can restore culture


The January 2020 Legatus East Summit is set to feature renowned chastity speakers Jason and Crystalina Evert as masters of ceremonies. Each is also expected to deliver an individual chastity talk.

Jason and Crystalina Evert – who have been married for 15 years and have seven children – have spoken about the virtue of chastity on six continents, to more than one million people. They have also co-written more than 15 books

Currently living in Arizona, they have also co-founded the Chastity Project and operate the website chastity. com. Jason recently spoke with Legatus magazine.

What are your talks going to be about at the 2020 Legatus Summit? 

G.K. Chesterton once said that the family is a cell of resistance to oppression. God wanted to bring redemption into the world through the Holy Family. God wants to continue to restore culture and heal culture by means of the family. We’re going to address how much the family is under attack and how big a crisis we’re seeing in the culture, in the Church, and in the family, and how Legatus members can bring renewal to the Church primarily through their families.

What are your thoughts about Legatus?

I think Legatus s is a crucial ministry within the Church. It’s a real gift to see how people can take their spirituality and bring it into a secular setting, not to proselytize their employees but to be a leaven in the world. I’ve been impressed with the Legates I’ve met, their interior life, and how seriously they take their Catholic faith.

How did you get into chastity speaking?

When I was in college at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I led many high school retreats and became aware of the struggles that young people were having there. I also did three years of crisis pregnancy counseling where I was in front of an abortion clinic, talking to women about other alternatives to abortion. But when you’re meeting a woman who’s having an abortion in 45 minutes, you start to feel pretty late. Why am I meeting her in front of an abortion clinic? Why can’t I meet her when she’s 15 years old? Because if she can understand chastity and real love then, then she probably would have never dated this guy to begin with, and wouldn’t be in this difficult situation.

After 21 years of chastity speaking, how do you keep the message fresh?

By listening to the young people. After every assembly, I make myself available as long as I can to be with them. I told one school, “Hey, I’ll be here if you have any questions afterwards,” and the students formed a line seven hours long. They would come up and just pour out all the details of their abortions, molestation, cutting, and addictions. They’re my professors. Their hearts are what I’m listening to, and that is why I think the teens relate to me.

Are kids today different than when you started speaking about chastity?

Kids today are up against a lot more. You look at everything from cell phones, Internet porn and sexting, which wasn’t on the radar two decades ago, to the question of gender, which was not something that kids wrestled with to this degree. All the chaos of what it even means to be human wasn’t nearly at the levels that it is today

Are you and Crystalina working on anything new?

We’re going to be releasing a lot more YouTube videos. We’re building a little TV studio in the house. I can’t believe how many kids come up to me and say, “Your talk changed my life.” I’ll ask where they saw the talk, and they’ll say, “YouTube.” From our generation, I don’t know too many people who have had YouTube conversions. But these kids live on their phones. So we’ve got to find effective means to bring them the Gospel where they are.

Catholic camps can stoke fervor for life

Summer camps are a time for friendships and fun, but Catholic camps offer experiences of faith that remain long after suntans have faded. This article looks at three camps — two which bring faith into summer activities, and one that equips teens for the serious business of defending life. 

Inspiring faith active kids …

Camp Fatima for boys and Camp Bernadette for girls, twin camps in the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, offer the quintessential camp experience for ages 6-15. They also include Sunday Mass, a vocation talk, evening prayers, the opportunity for Confession, adoration, and activities such as Rosary Club.

According to Michael Drumm, CEO of the camps who worked his way up from a camp counselor in 1994, the fruits of the camp last long after summer is over. “One kid stopped coming after his parents divorced,” Drumm said. “He came back a few years later as a staff member. Being at the camp inspired him to do more about his faith. He got confirmed in college and credited his summers at Fatima as part of the inspiration to return to the faith.”

These days, camping is also serious business. Employees and volunteers get background checks and serious training. “Our counselors understand the magnitude of the job they have,” Drumm said. “It’s not like working at fast food.” 

… including special-needs campers

The Manchester camps reflect Catholic values each summer by also serving the less fortunate. Their special-needs camp for the developmentally disabled includes both children and adults. In addition, Special Citizens Week was added for campers with disabilities needing one-on-one care. That week in August is a free gift of love. All 180 counselors and 100 support staff such as nurses, cooks, janitors, people working the waterfront, and all activities, volunteer their time. Fundraising and donations cover the cost.

Michael Veneziano first attended Camp Fatima at age 13 and stayed on as a counselor until he was 21. After earning a degree in sports communication, he landed his dream job at ESPN in Connecticut. For six summers, he returned to work at the special-needs camp. “It would be the best week of my year,” he explained. By year seven, Veneziano considered: “Who really cares whether someone had eight or nine assists in a game? But if you make an impact in someone’s life, that really matters.” Veneziano went back to school and is a special education teacher now for middle school students.

Teaching authentic femininity and masculinity

In the diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, Camp Beloved is for girls grade 7-12 and Camp Greatness for boys has a session for grades 6-8 and another for grades 9-12. The week-long camps include outdoor fun, daily Mass, time for adoration, learning chant, and a talk on vocations.

According to Kevin Losleben, director of youth ministry for the diocese, the camps used to be coed but were separated several years ago, offering the freedom to talk about issues specific to boys and girls. “They have the freedom not to worry about what the opposite sex is thinking and focus on Jesus,” he said.

The Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a new order of nuns, run the girls camp. Their charism is imitating Mary while carrying out the New Evangelization in parishes. “The camp is called Camp Beloved because girls often struggle with self-image and knowing they are loved,” Losleben explained. “It highlights femininity and instills what it means to be a beloved daughter of God.”

Losleben runs the boys camp which focuses on masculinity and being a man of God. “The boys camp is super high-energy and intense which is one of the big draws,” he said. “One of our capstone games is man-ball which is like a free-for-all version of dodgeball.” Another favorite activity last summer, he said, was a mud obstacle course that two of the seminarians put together.

Cole McKeown, a physical therapist who is married with a second baby on the way, attended the camp for five years as a teen and worked another five years as a counselor. “I think the best thing was when the bishop required all the seminarians to go to the camp,” he said. “As a young teenager, seeing good holy men discern their vocation was very influential. It showed that to be a strong Catholic man (especially seminarians and priests) didn’t mean you were an anti-social freak.” McKeown said he returned as a counselor because he recognized the importance of positive male role models for boys.

Defending the essence of life

Vox Vitae (Voice for Life) began in 2015 for teens 14-19, founded by Catherine Contreras, the respect life coordinator for St. Therese Catholic Church in Alhambra, California. As a secular Carmelite, she credits Our Lady of Mount Carmel with inspiring Vox Vitae and hopes it will one day spread throughout the country.

Although Contreras was always pro-life, it was in the last 10 years that she became informed and committed to it. “I started praying and doing sidewalk counseling and trying to help mothers,” she said. “I’ve held men and women who had abortions, crying with them, and also held babies in my arms who have been saved.”

The classroom camp equips teens to become a voice for the unborn and at the end of the week, they pray and engage in sidewalk counseling at an abortion facility. But first, they are led to Jesus and Mary through learning the faith, listening to renowned speakers, practicing debate and dialogue, and receiving the sacraments. Teens also learn about Eucharistic miracles and listen to scientists impress upon them that it truly is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. There are also evening sessions with the speakers for the adults.

“We are planting seeds that will be fruitful throughout their lives,” Contreras said. Not everyone is comfortable speaking out, at least at first, but even just praying helps, she said. “When people pray in front of an abortion facility, less people go in. And the longer a mother carries her baby, the more likely she will keep it.”

Boys are shown that this is their issue too. “They are going to be dating girls and this is a humanity issue,” Contreras said. “They have a right to an opinion.”

Michaela Lessard, a senior in high school, has attended the camp for two summers. “Although I have grown up in a devout Catholic family and knew abortion was wrong,” she said, “it was the speakers at Vox Vitae that opened my eyes to the urgency of the issue. They gave us hard facts. It was only when I saw the urgency of the fight for life that I gained the courage to take my place in the ranks.”

Lessard said that the speaker, Fr. Stephen Imbarrato, explained that the pro-life battle is spiritual, so prayer is vital. “Vox Vitae nourished our spirit so that no amount of angry shouting, middle fingers, or bad weather could kill it,” she said. “The first time I talked to some pro-choicers, they were very outspoken, and I was intimidated. But practice makes perfect. Though I am far from perfect, I am not nearly as scared. Vox Vitae gave me an arsenal of knowledge.”

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.

Addressing risky behavior that leads youth astray

In the cultural wars, Obria, a nonprofit chain of pro-life clinics offering a holistic health approach for women, just scored an amazing win. They were given a two-year Title V grant in the amount of $450,000 per year to teach sexual risk avoidance in the states of California and Washington. It is a significant step toward healing a culture steeped in ignorance, which has been critically wounding bodies and souls.

Operating on the assumption that young people engage in sex outside of marriage, public school sex education has become a promoter of it. It is a model destined for failure, focused on accommodating dangerous and immoral behavior rather than reversing it.

Last year, two scientific reviews made headlines concluding that abstinence-until-marriage programs fail to protect kids and also violate their human rights by not supporting their sexual activity. The premise of accommodating license over morality, however, is not only at odds with moral, healthy living, but at odds with numerous other studies reporting that “sexual-risk avoidance” programs reduce risky behaviors and even increase academic success in students.

Much-needed U-turn

The Planned Parenthood sex education model has dominated public schools while abstinence education is actually illegal in the state of California. But the comprehensive sex-risk avoidance model is gaining national acceptance and funding, according to Kathleen Eaton Bravo, an Orange Coast Legate and founder and CEO of Obria, a chain of pro-life medical clinics. Obria offers comprehensive life-centered health to women at 30 clinics in five states with the aim to reach 200 sites by 2021.

“To promote a culture of life, it is important to address the behaviors that lead young people astray by offering education in sexual risk avoidance,” Bravo explained. As the mother of three adult sons and as a post-abortive mom, Bravo understands first-hand that education is the key to making good decisions. Under the Trump administration, she said there is now a greater willingness to fund such programs.

Last October, Obria became the first California-based pro-life organization in 37 years to receive a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services under Title V to teach sex-risk avoidance. “All of our affiliate clinics are implementing the program,” Bravo said. “We expect to see 15,000 students in the first year.”

 Motivation over threat 

Obria Executive Director Mauricio Leone wrote the grant, to teach the curriculum created by the Center for Relationship Education – which bases everything on science supported by research – to promote healthy relationships. It uses the “whole person” approach, nurturing the body, mind, and heart, rather than only focusing only on sexual behavior. And instead of resorting to negativism and threats, it seeks to motivate young people to be their best by simply imparting the facts.

Leone, who is married with two young daughters, was initially impressed by Obria’s pro-life mission, and at first volunteered to write grant proposals. He was soon hired full time and became certified as a risk-avoidance specialist through Ascend – a national organization that represents the field of Sexual Risk Avoidance education as an optimal health strategy to improve opportunities.

“What is being taught now is much more comprehensive than just abstinence education,” Leone said. “It uses the latest scientific information to teach about sexual health and includes the emotional, psychological, relational, emotional, and physical. The main goal is to eliminate all risks associated with sexual activity.”

“While the typical sex education program teaches how to use condoms, we are presenting an entire picture of what a human being is,” Leone said. “Everything we teach is factual and science-based. We inform on the consequences of STDs, and relate methods of contraception— though we don’t normalize them— as we educate about the risks, and show that no contraception is 100 percent effective.”

Given that California does not allow such education in their schools, Leone said that they will train educators to implement the program in their clinics — for teaching patients directly — and in other settings such as churches, as well as Christian and Catholic schools. “I just heard that the Archdiocese of San Antonio is partnering with the University of Texas to implement this curriculum in Catholic schools in Texas,” he said.

In Washington, the program will be offered to the public schools since it is not illegal there. According to Bravo, since many parents in California are not aware that sexual risk avoidance education is not allowed in public schools, she hopes to inform and encourage them to support legislation to change that law.

“This grant was perfect for us, to empower young people to change their lives for such a time as this,” Bravo said. “Now the doors are open again, and committed to life-affirming education.”

PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer

Championing Underprivileged Youth – in Life Skills and Meaning

In Luke 16:10, the Lord Jesus counsels his disciples that someone who is faithful in small things will be faithful in important matters.

That is how Andre Julian, a member of Legatus’ San Juan Capistrano Chapter, views his role as an ambassador for Jesus Christ.

“It’s the little things that we do, these little acts of faith, that give us as Catholics even more faith as we do them,” said Julian, 48, a Merrill Lynch management executive who has offered his investment insights as a commentator on CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business Network.

Motivational mentoring

Julian offers advice to high school and young college students each summer as a mentor with LEAP (Leadership, Excellence, Accelerating Potential), which seeks to provide participants with valuable life skills such as networking, surrounding oneself with positive people, and preparing for job interviews.

The program offers Julian the opportunity to share with young people how the Church sustained him and his family through difficult times, and how the Catholic faith informs his approach to work and his outlook on life.

Julian emphasized that being a LEAP mentor allows him to offer his Christian witness in an authentic and natural way, not in a proselytizing manner.

Life raft of the Church

“Our job as ambassadors is to present the good news. God will take care of the rest,” said Julian, who was only three years old when his parents divorced. His mother, who was Catholic, found strength and healing in the Church.

“From an early age, I associated the Church with something that healed my mom and made her feel better,” Julian said. “When I was very young, she told me that Jesus is the most important thing in your life. He will get you through the difficult times.”

As a teenager and young adult, Julian said he wavered in his faith at times, but he never stopped praying or reading the Bible. In college, he met his wife, Christine, who was also Catholic, and they chose to live the faith as a family. They have a daughter, Chloe.

Living Catholicism on purpose

Deciding to live as an intentional Catholic, a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ, places demands on one’s life that Julian compared to a police officer who puts on a uniform and is reminded that he or she represents something bigger than oneself.

“When you label yourself as a Catholic, then you have to live it,” Julian said. “It forces me to be consistent in my beliefs and it forces me to make decisions.”

As a Legatus member for 2 ½ years, Julian sees the organization’s mission as interwoven with the Great Commission.

“We are called to be ambassadors of Christ out in the world,” he said. “I see Legatus as a place where you can go and speak with likeminded people who can give you strength and who can fill you with discussion and knowledge, and make sure that your faith is kept strong.

“But out in the world, I think, is where we have the most impact,” Julian said. “There are these things we as Catholics do to gain strength, but then we need to go out into the world and we need to do something with what we’ve been given.”

A friend got Julian involved in the LEAP program, which brings young people from across the country and the world together for a week every summer and seeks to provide them with the life skills they will need to be successful adults. Most of the young people in the retreattype program come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mentoring others stirs own faith

As a LEAP mentor, Julian makes himself available to groups of participants who interview him about his life. Julian said being a mentor has made a positive impact in his own life.

“It’s just a phenomenal program,” said Julian, who has done TED talks but added that the LEAP program gives him a chance to discuss the biblical themes that undergird his perspective on life. The program is secular in nature, but gives him a natural platform to share his faith.

“I can tell them my story. I can tell them my background, that I came from a broken home,” Julian said.

Sharing his story has also prompted Julian to learn more about his own Catholic faith, and to try to be a credible witness by authentically living the faith’s tenets every day, whether he is at home, work, socializing with friends, or guiding young people.

Said Julian, “It forces me to look at my actions and ask myself what am I doing to be a better man of God, to be a better family man and a better man of faith. When you’re in a position where people are looking at you for advice, and you have to responsibly give that advice, then you have a responsibility to yourself, to your faith, to God, to act out that advice.”

Talking is one thing, but Julian, a martial arts enthusiast, said principles must be put into action. Every day.

Said Julian, “It’s in our acts that we become known.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.