Record number attends Junior High Christian Leadership Institute

LEESVILLE — Like a baseball team that trains minor league players for the big leagues, the Youth Ministry Office at the Diocese of Charleston has seen positive results in training junior high youth to become Christian leaders for school, parish youth programs and the community.

“If you have a good junior high program, it will feed into the high school youth group,” said youth ministry director Jerry White.

Many of the current high school counselors who help with the various diocesan events were graduates of the Junior High Christian Leadership Institute (CLI). Brianne Fors, a high school student from Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia and a member of the Evangelization Team, recalled her experience with CLI in sixth grade.

“The high school counselors were so happy and had such great love for God. I wanted to be like them,” Fors said.

Fors was one of the high school students who sacrificed a week of summer vacation to help with the recent Junior High CLI at Kinard Conference Center June 24-28. Nearly 80 middle school students attended the institute, a record number.

“I am particularly struck by the total giving of the high school leaders,” said Susan Fennell, a chaperone from Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Greenwood and a teacher at Cambridge Academy. “They all have a shining capacity for bringing our faith to life and in such a way that promotes true respect for their Christian leadership.”

White sees the need to first evangelize the youth, because many do not know how to begin a relationship with Jesus. That relationship is the cornerstone for Christian leadership.

“I want them to have a good experience in their faith, and if they get excited here, I hope there is something for them to go back to,” White said.

Fennell was glad that she brought her sixth-grader, Melanie. Her family recently moved from Baltimore and she knows the value of being able to come together with other Catholics and share a common faith.

A highlight of the week was Saturday Vigil Mass with Oratorian Father Joseph Wahl, who took the opportunity to teach youth about struggles in life and how God will give them strength.

“Life is going to get tough, but remember what God promised: ‘I am with you always.’ The people with heavy burdens are not left alone. If they have faith, they are going to make it,” Wahl said.

Many of the young people openly accepted Jesus into their lives during an evening prayer service. These young Christians on fire for the faith will be examples of how youths can live out God’s promise during the turbulent middle school years.