Newry Parish teens set the agenda for a new programme

Newry Cathedral News

Youth Space was an eight-week programme where sixth formers got an opportunity to connect with each other from a place of shared faith and challenges. The team of leaders, comprising students and more experienced youth leaders, were delighted with the response of 26 sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds that took part every week.

One of the organisers, a member of the Parish Pastoral Council, Catriona Regan, explained how it started:

“We met with a group of young people last November with a view of doing something for them. We suggested a Youth Alpha but they said they wanted to talk about the challenges they are facing and they actually gave us the topics they wanted to cover – things like loneliness, forgiveness, friendship and faith in action.”

Catriona Regan, Parish Council

Canon Francis Brown, the Parish Administrator said how delighted he was that the Cathedral could serve some of the needs of young people at this time,

‘it is my fervent hope that we will continue to expand similar programmes for our youth as they add so much vitality to parish life and ensure that the faith development of future generations has informed young leaders to spread the word of God’.

Canon Brown

Participants in the scheme watched a short, specially-recorded video from a key local figure, before breaking into groups of eight to discuss the topic of the week, sharing thoughts and ideas from their personal experience. This followed a similar format to the Alpha course, a highly popular scheme designed to introduce the basics of the Christian faith through a series of talks and discussions, the mainstay of Christian outreach in many parishes and faith groups.

Catriona says the videos lasted about five minutes and were very powerful: “It’s the witness of somebody who’s prepared to talk about their life and their real experiences. The people we approached have been so open and honest.”

The speakers included; John McAreavey, the Gaelic footballer; Richard Moore from Children in Crossfire; Sr Emma Brady, a novice nun in Glencairn Abbey; and Carmel Rafferty, a nurse who spoke about how her faith has carried her through the pandemic. The idea of the programme was to help young people see the connection between faith and life and that their faith isn’t something for a Sunday morning.

Catriona said of the input of Sr Julie McGoldrick, a Sister of St Clare from the Glenvale Community in Co. Down, who spoke to finding your purpose in life: “It was very relevant for these young people – to find out why they’re here and that there is a special purpose in their life. It did my heart good to see them respond so positively.

“The young people loved the programme and were very open. On the night where the theme was loneliness, we got a very good understanding of what it’s like to be 16 or 17 and not able to see your friends and the impact of that.

At the end of the programme, the young people gave feedback saying the programme had helped them to make new friends and to connect to other like-minded young people. They valued the opportunity to explore their faith, discuss topics that were relevant to them and to engage in insightful conversations with people who had different ways of seeing things. They said that Youth Space helped them grow their faith and they would recommend it to other young people.