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Young Catholics prepare to defend the faith in the public square

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'We always need to pray when we are asked questions,' one says
By Deborah GyapongSarah Du Broy, Katherine Church, and Danielle Breffitt are members of Catholic Perspectives from Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong / CCN.Sarah Du Broy, Katherine Church, and Danielle Breffitt are members of Catholic Perspectives from Ottawa. Deborah Gyapong / CCN.

Three young Catholic women from Ottawa are among a group of young people 35 and under who are preparing to defend the faith, the Church, and the Pope in the public square.

Danielle Breffitt, a Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) missionary in communications; Katherine Church, a physiotherapist; and Sarah Du Broy, a communications officer for the Ottawa archdiocese; participated in the first of five training sessions offered by the Salt and Light Media Foundation.

They joined about 20 participants from Ontario and the Salt and Light TV staff for sessions led by Salt and Light's CEO Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, an English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, and a member of the Social Communications Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"Everyone in there was really solid," said Breffitt.

"It was very life-giving to be in that setting," said Katherine Church.

"It has become more and more obvious to us at Salt and Light that there is a very distinct need for articulate persons to explain the significance of the massive papal transition we experienced last year and what Pope Francis is writing, saying, and doing," said Father Rosica.

The training sessions originated in a proposal made in 2013 to the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario and later to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Rosica said the Ontario bishops were invited to recommend four or five young adults from each of their dioceses.

The first training session in April attracted about 20 young people from seven Ontario dioceses and two ecclesial movements.

Father Rosica stressed the importance of the young people's being "proactive, and not in a constant reactive mode to various challenges and ecclesial crises."

The group-in-training has been called "Catholic Perspectives" to maintain a "unique Canadian identity," Father Rosica said. He noted the success of similar groups such as Catholic Voices UK and Catholic Comment Ireland before Pope Benedict's 2010 visit to the U.K. and the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin.

Groups have also been studying elsewhere in Canada. The B.C. Catholic reported last week on the final training sessions June 6-8 as Catholic Voices prepares to launch in Canada.

Father Rosica said the young people must subscribe to Catholic teaching and "want to share the Catholic worldview in an open, confident, friendly, and respectful way."

Du Broy said if media contact a diocese they might prefer to talk to ordinary Catholics who are well-informed rather than a bishop or a priest.

Though they would not claim to represent the diocese officially, Du Broy outlined a number of discussion areas the young people hope to be able to speak about if asked: same-sex marriage and how young adults interpret or misinterpret it; Pope Francis's words, homilies, and gestures; the meaning of mercy; the case for marriage; how young adults respond to Church scandals; the Theology of the Body; big events such as World Youth Days and how to reach out to young adults not part of it; the role of women in the Church; understanding various rites and sacraments; the role of clergy and religious; and why they choose to follow the teachings of the Church.

Church said their being young adults might make listeners and viewers "more forgiving if we put our foot in our mouths."

But opportunities to evangelize do not just come through the media, Church said. Any time there is a possibility to evangelize at work, among friends, "you have to think before you answer," she said, noting how Pope Francis makes his message "stick" by being simple and clear.

"It's about witnessing, not winning an argument," said Breffitt. "The Church believes what might not be popular," but the Holy Spirit is "behind us" when we express our faith. "We don't have to be afraid."

"We always need to pray when we are asked questions," said Du Broy. "We have to pray before we answer."

Breffitt said they know on many of the topics they would have to seek advice and do some brushing up before appearing on the media so they "don't say something not correct."

They said they appreciated the fact Father Rosica and the Salt and Light team have made themselves available as resources.

"We always have more to learn," said Church.

The training gave them practical tips on how to approach being interviewed, punctuated with examples from Father Rosica's experience fielding questions on the resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis.

"We need to ask a lot of questions before saying yes," said Church. Those questions could include who is doing the interview; will other people be present in the room; what angle is the journalist pursuing.

Take time to pray and seek support and resources before agreeing, she said.

Preparing ahead with some key phrases that distil your message helps, said Breffitt.

Breffitt grew up in Ottawa, went to church as a child, but stopped when in middle school. In Grade 10 or 11 she was invited to a Catholic youth group. It was there she had the opportunity to experience God's love for her. "I made a personal decision to follow the Lord at 16," she said. She served for two years as a missionary for NET Ministries, and then joined CCO where she has entered her third year.

"I've been seeing people's lives change," Breffitt said. "That definitely helps me in my faith. Faith isn't lived unless it's shared."

Though about two-thirds of young adults leave the Catholic Church at or after university, Breffitt credits having a strong Catholic community for cementing her faith and challenging her to be "a missionary disciple."

Church, a cradle Catholic, was 16 years old when the principal of her school asked her to help out when the World Youth Day Cross came to Ottawa. She didn't realize she would have to play the part of Mother Elizabeth Bruyere, wearing a costume and delivering some lines in front of 18,000 people at the Canadian Tire Centre. The WYD cross was on centre ice on a revolving platform. The only way she could deliver her monologue was to cling to the cross so she would not fall off, she said.

She felt extremely shaky, but this event cured her of any fear of speaking in public, she said. When she went to WYD later in Toronto, she was standing with her mother as the WYD Cross went by. "Hey, that's your cross," her mother said. She remembers thinking, "That's the cross that saved me," but realizing "it was so much more."

Going to Toronto again for the media training moved her so much and "set her on fire," so she travelled to Rome to attend the canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. "It was like being at World Youth Day all over again," she said, especially to mark the canonization of Saint John Paul "who changed my life and made [faith] so vibrant for young people.

Du Broy experienced a deep conversion at the age of 8 when her parents took her to a charismatic prayer meeting. Her mother noticed how she was responding and told her to close her eyes and ask God to come into her heart. She felt God's presence very powerfully.

From then on she kept going to Mass and staying involved in the Church, going on to get a degree in journalism at the University of Ottawa. "I always knew I would work for the Church in media," she said.

"God wants what's best for us," Du Broy said. "His teachings are for our good."

Last Updated on Monday, 23 June 2014 07:12  

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