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“Discipleship, straight up” Youth Evangelization Office launches VIA, new “way” of ministry

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By Gail Finke

VIA. It’s a new name, but an ancient idea: Evangelizing to others by the witness of a life of faith, grounded in prayer.

“It’s not a new program,” said Brad Bursa, Director of the Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship for the archdiocese. “It’s not anything the Church hasn’t been saying for 2000 years. Just discipleship, straight up. Extending an invitation into ‘via’ – ‘the way’ that Is the Christian life.”

Latin for “way” or “road,” via also means “by way of,” or “the way to.” VIA is the umbrella name now given to several existing youth initiatives, to several new ones, and to the shared philosophy behind them. According to ViaCatholic.org, the website for the Office for Youth Evangelization and Discipleship, VIA is a vision for youth ministry that involves youth ministers in a shared community, then invites young people to join that community.

“It is the fruit of lived experience amongst youth ministers who desire to grow in the interior life, in faithfully living out their vocation, and in giving their lives for the youth entrusted to them,” the website proclaims. “VIA serves to invite youth to enter into communion with Christ by fostering disciple-making youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.”

Big words, but not an empty promise, Bursa said. The existing VIA initiatives (see list) grew out of a small group of youth ministers who first gathered regularly to pray together and then came up with events and activities to include young people in their prayer. New initiatives for youth ministers and coaches are aimed at creating opportunities for the same.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” Bursa said. “The days of ‘If you build it, they will come’ youth ministry are over.” Where once a youth minister could hold a weekly meeting or offer a weekend retreat, today he or she is hard pressed to find a time young people can meet, or young people interested in meeting. Moreover, youth ministers often work different hours from other parish staff, in different locations, and are expected to set up and run their own programs. The result can be isolating and disheartening, or lose all connection to parish life.

VIA, in contrast, gives youth ministers the to live the kind of community and fellowship they want to share with young people. While it includes extensive formation, at its heart is the same “way” found in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”

“We recognize that at the root of the human problem is sin,” Bursa said, “and God wants to help us with sin.” VIA ministry shows young people, through personal experience, that the way God helps us is through the Sacraments, through prayer, through the teachings of the Catholic Church, and through a deep relationship with Christ – which is built by those things.

The Office now works with coaches as well as youth ministers. Rod Dunlap, hired for the new Director of Sports Ministries position this fall, is developing ways to work with coaches. Though rarely thought of as “ministers,” coaches are often central to young people’s lives. The first VIA sports event, “Huddle,” is set for late April and is modeled on a number of existing VIA events (see chart). It includes time for fellowship and a meal, as well as group prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, and the Stations of the Cross.

Later this spring, VIA will launch a new program, Via Missionaries, to help parishes launch ministry.

New VIA programs will develop over time, Bursa said, as the existing ones did. They’ll change and grow and be replaced when circumstances change. The Office staff prays and attends Mass together, just as it encourages youth ministers to do, so that its work is grounded in the Great Commission given to the Apostles, and in creating time in a busy day to listen to the Word of God and invite the Holy Spirit to lead.

Everything about VIA is designed to “show, not tell,” Bursa said, a principle mentioned by Pope Paul VI in a passage often quoted by Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

VIA Youth events:

AWAKE: Junior high rallies, held in conjunction with NET Ministries, combine prayer and catechesis with fellowship and fun
WAKE: Youth “pre-evangelization” events focus on fellowship, fun, and prayer
ENCOUNTER: High school prayer festivals combine prayer and catechesis with fellowship and fun
ABIDE: High school summer camp provide intensive catechesis, service

VIA Youth minister events:

NOVA: prayer and formation days kick off each semester of youth ministry
EQUIP: Day-long formation events provide training for youth ministers and their teams
UPPER ROOM: informal lunch meetings for youth ministers build community
RENEWAL: Day-long, end of semester retreats
EMMAUS: Monthly formation program provides mentoring

VIA Sports events:

HUDDLE: lunch fellowship and prayer event for coaches builds community

VIA Missionaries:

New program sending pairs of young missionaries to parishes


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