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Youth minister brings young people to ‘the well’

If you walk down the halls at Church of the Nativity in Burke and meander in the direction of the youth ministry offices, chances are you will hear Ingrid Sánchez-Seymour before you see her. The self-described extrovert loves people and sharing her Catholic faith. She has traveled far and wide and has learned multiple languages just to talk to as many people as she can. But even though she has seen a good bit of the world, one of her favorite places is Nativity's youth group activity room. The room, painted yellow, her favorite color, is nicknamed “the well.” The name comes from the Gospel account of Jesus's conversation at the well with the Samaritan women.

“Jesus was there to talk with her because that is where God sent Him and He waited for her,” said Ingrid. “He talked with her,” she said, adding, “To me that is youth ministry, bringing them into relationship with Christ.” 

Ingrid Sánchez-Seymour uses love of communications to help youths build relationships with God

As director of youth ministry, Ingrid tries to bring young people “to the well,” to a place where Jesus can communicate with them and begin a relationship with them. But the key to any conversation is knowing the language.

Ingrid grew up in a Cuban-American household in Miami, where Ingrid learned English, Spanish and her “Catholic language” from her family.

“I see Catholic as a language because it has a lot to do with what comes out of my mouth,” she said.

Her love of the faith, especially the Mass, drew her to the church from an early age. When she started school, she realized how important it was to be able to speak the faith.

“I went to a southern Baptist church because (my parents) were afraid of the public schools and could not afford the Catholic school,” said Ingrid.
She learned a lot of scripture but her age did not protect her from attempts to challenge her faith in an environment that was wary of Catholics. Her brothers, who also attended the school, were eventually defeated by the constant “pinging” they received from school administrators according to Ingrid. However, she used it as motivation to know more. “I said, 'No, I like being Catholic.'”

She attended an all-girls Catholic high school. In religion class, it became clear that she was lacking in theology.

“I realized I had my feet in two worlds,” said Ingrid. “When my dad asked me if I wanted to be confirmed I said, 'Yes, but not right now.'” During this time the church became her refuge.

“I was super involved in youth ministry. I loved going to Mass. That is where I felt at home,” she said. “I thought I was mature beyond my years and the only, people who got it were at church.”

Ingrid recalled the 80s as an awkward time with school and the cloud of the Cold War. In the middle of all this, Pope John Paul II decided to make a trip to Miami. 

“He just seemed new and fresh,” said Ingrid, who remembered when the pope was elected in 1978. Now eight years later, she would be able to meet him in person. 

She was fortunate to be among a group of students to carry banners during the Mass.

“We get there at 3 a.m. with credentials and go to the banner sites to get ready. We were off to the side. The Mass started at 2 p.m. and because it is Miami you know it is going to rain. The pope was under a tent and refused to leave even as the rain got harder.”
Pope John Paul II noticed her group and motioned to have them brought under the tent. 

“He looks at each one of us and said, 'you are the church' and that has been emblazed on my heart and mind. That is what drives me,” said Ingrid. “I tell all my kids that.”

It was this experience as well as the pope's talent for languages that fed her desire to travel beyond Miami.

“If I know more languages, I can talk to more people,” said Ingrid. “At one point I could speak five languages.”

She attended American University in Washington to major in international studies and in her senior year she left the country for the first time. She traveled through Eastern Europe to countries such as Hungary, Romania and Poland. Everywhere she went she would visit a Catholic church and pray for the people who lived there. 

“I learned that each church has its own flavor,” said Ingrid.

After finishing her master's at American University she was hired as a program manager for the U. S. Agency for International Development. Her work took her around the world and fulfilled her desire to explore new places and meet new people, but it ultimately did not satisfy her heart. It was around this time that she met Jim Seymour.

“I finally found the man that God brought me to,” said Ingrid, who said that when they started dating and were married Jim was Lutheran. Eventually he became Catholic on his own accord.

After getting married, she decided that her travels would have to stop if she wanted to have a family. She left her job but was restless. One day, her husband handed her a church bulletin advertising for a youth minister at Holy Trinity in Washington. Despite being five months pregnant, she was hired and worked there for the next six years giving birth to all three of her children - Elizia, Victor and Xavier - during her years there. 
The sudden death of her brother compelled her to take a break from Holy Trinity and deal with her loss. Five years later, a chance occurrence brought her to Nativity. The family was on their way to Mass at St. Bernadette Church in Springfield when they had a car accident with someone pulling into Nativity. After everything was settled, Ingrid said, “Let's go here.”

She became involved in the Nativity community, working with the PTO and organizing retreats. When the director of youth ministry position opened up, many hoped she would apply. She got the job and started working in December 2012.

“If it were not for my husband I would not be doing this,” said Ingrid. “God is so good.”
Currently, she is working on a program that brings younger and older kids together while also keeping the older teens engaged before entering high school. For a week in the summer, the older teens help run the parish vacation Bible school. In the afternoon, the teens participate in a mini work camp that includes volunteering in the community restocking shelves at a food pantry or cutting the lawn of an older parishioner at Nativity.
“I go back to relationships,” said Ingrid. “You can't form community if you can't build a relationship first. That is what Pope John Paul II did. He never forgot where he came from and what his gifts were.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016