In 2011, I was sent to our Verbum Dei community working in the Religious Education programme at St Anthony parish of Long Beach, California, which belongs to the Los Angeles archdiocese.
My ministry here mainly involves catechism for the youth, RCIA, adult Confirmation and the formation of the volunteer catechists.
There are about 650 First Communion children aged 7 to 12 and approximately 300 Confirmation students aged 14 to 17. Our students are mostly second-generation Latinos who come from lower-income immigrant families of Latino descent.
By the time these children come to us for First Communion catechism, many of them have been marked by the hardships of their family’s struggle to survive. When they enter the Confirmation programme, quite a number are jaded by the experiences of racism, classism, gang violence at school or even in their families, and some others the sad fate of abuse within their families as parents cope unhealthily with their difficult situations.
Nevertheless, time and time again, I have witnessed how our efforts and the volunteer catechists somehow become waterways of God’s embracing love and compassion to reach these children where they are.
I particularly love taking the mood-swinging, handphone-addicted, texting, ‘Facebooking’ and ‘Instagramming’ teenagers on their Confirmation weekend retreat in the mountains of San Bernadino about two-and-a-half hours from Long Beach, where they promptly discover that their phones have no signal. Every year without fail, the confirmed youngsters always say their best experience was “that weekend retreat when we learned about God out there in the nature”.
Whether it is the teenagers, or adults in our RCIA or Adult Confirmation programme, it is about the essential: experiencing the abundance of God’s love up close and very personal, and the joy of being part of a community of faith that expresses this love by seeking to live the values of God’s Kingdom.
By Sr Su Fern Khoo