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Youth Apostles celebrate 40 years as a community

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A quick look around the Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Falls Church celebrating the Youth Apostles’ 40th anniversary Sept. 7 and it became clear the impact the Youth Apostles have had on the church — children and young families filled the pews.

The Youth Apostles, a non-profit organization approved by the Catholic Church as a mixed Public Association of Christ’s Faithful, came back to the place where it all began 40 years ago, when it was founded by Eduardo Azcarate in 1979.

“We wanted to celebrate a Mass to thank God for his countless blessings upon us for the past 40 years and the privilege of being called by him to serve the young people in the church,” said Youth Apostle Father Jack P. Peterson, consecrated cleric assistant director and director of mission and development.

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge celebrated Mass, and Youth Apostle Father Peter W. Nassetta, Catholic chaplain at James Madison University, was the homilist.

Diocesan members of Youth Apostles include Fathers Ramon Dominguez, director of Don Bosco Center in Manassas, Fathers Peterson, David M. Sharland and Thomas Yehl.

Youth Apostle Kevin Bohli, diocesan director of the Office of Youth, Campus and Young Adult Ministry, got to know the Youth Apostles when he was a student at Virginia Tech in 1994 and became a full member in 1997.

“When I became involved in Youth Apostles, I found a community of very talented men who were also 100 percent committed to growing closer to Christ and sharing him with young people,” Bohli said. “I found myself constantly impressed by these guys — successful engineers, brilliant teachers and speakers, excellent musicians, and holy priests — each of whom were also very good at youth ministry. As I was discerning God’s plan for me, I could not imagine a better group of guys to spend time with. They have had a major impact on all aspects of my life. They continue to inspire me in my role as a husband and father, and help to form and support me in my work with young people.”

At the beginning of Mass, Youth Apostles Director Jonathan Mundell thanked everyone who has contributed to the founding and growth of the Youth Apostles community. “It’s a great blessing to come together for this Mass,” he said. “The celebration of the Eucharist is the best way we can thank God for all that he has done.”

During Father Nassetta’s homily, he said 40 years is an important number in Scripture and salvation history. He noted that 40 years in Scripture is often associated with trials and testing. “While Youth Apostles has not spent 40 years in the desert by any means, there certainly have been moments of trial and testing,” he said.

Father Nassetta said there were challenges in finding endorsements and sponsorships to see the community through. But eventually it worked out. “No matter what the difficulties or challenges, God is always working, guiding and leading us through his shepherds,” he said.

He concluded with part of the Novena prayer the Youth Apostles have been praying leading up to the anniversary celebration: “Lord … as we have grown, been guided and given ourselves in service to the church and your people these last 40 years, may we be ever more faithful to your call to us to be deeper in prayer, desiring of holiness and dedicated to the service of young people.”

Bishop Burbidge spoke at the end of Mass. “Your mission has been made very clear to you, in a special way, to bring that good news, that truth, that joy of the Gospel, to my young people, as Jesus says,” he said. “You have done that for years, and your work is needed more than ever because we know that in our world today, our young people are very much tested, all the temptations around them, all the untruths spoken to them every day, the deceptions, the false promises, and they are the people to whom you are sent.”

After Mass, there was a reception with presentations by Father Peterson; a video on the 40th anniversary; Youth Apostle Jim Harbour spoke on why he joined the Youth Apostles, Youth Apostle Tiffany Lambert spoke about Women Youth Apostles; and Kevin Webb spoke on being a friend of Youth Apostles for 40 years. 

“I fell in love with the community and ministry and felt called to give my life to that,” said Harbour. “Why I am still here is because I believe the world needs a lot of change and it’s young people who are going to bring about that change. It means it’s not us that are going to change the world, it is the young people that we are impacting that are going to change the world, going back to schools, bringing Christ to the rest of the world. I want to be able to play a piece of being able to bring Christ to those world changers.”

The 112 Youth Apostles are active in the Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond, Maryland and Vermont. Ministries include parish directors of youth ministry; Catholic Life Communities at St. Mark Church in Vienna, All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax and St. Bernadette School in Springfield; campus ministries; Don Bosco Center, an outreach program to Hispanic middle schoolers in Manassas; and pro-life ministry poster and essay contests.

“Most of our work is striving to bring young people to an authentic and real encounter with Jesus Christ through parish and campus ministry youth programs and then trying to help them live the faith authentically as adults,” said Father Peterson.

Youth Apostle Jim Garster, a CLC moderator at St. Bernadette and is head cross country and assistant track coach for distance at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores, is a lifetime member. “It’s a great organization because it helps me in my call working with youths and helps me be a better youth minister,” he said. “I realized if I wanted to continue doing youth ministry and growing my holiness that Youth Apostles would be the way to be able to do it.”

Youth Apostle members begin as candidates and after being a full member for one year, they can ask to be consecrated and make the private promises of poverty, chastity and obedience. They live in community and their apostolic work is dedicated to young people. After being consecrated, they can ask to go to seminary.

Youth Apostle Mission Companions began in 2017 and there are more than 80 members today, who are committed volunteers, donors and prayer warriors of Youth Apostles.

“There was a growing desire to provide a way to give more support spiritually to those who support us with their prayers, volunteer time and resources,” said Father Peterson. “We came up with a way in which we can recognize them but also invite them through their connection with Youth Apostles to dive more deeply into their own faith life and journey. They are friends across the country who pray for us, volunteer with us, participate in some of the spiritual things we do.”

A sister community, Women Youth Apostles, has 23 members. They serve as volunteers and staff in youth ministry and campus ministry, moderate Catholic Life Communities, retreats, WorkCamps, alternative spring breaks, bible studies, and theater ministry programs. They are seeking to become a public association in the Diocese of Arlington.

Father Peterson said the Youth Apostles is developing a growth plan to grow membership and ministry and hopes to start a fundraising campaign. “The Lord seems to be setting on our heart an increasing desire to try to reach more and more young people with the love and truth and mercy of Christ,” he said. “The most important thing is we have really helped thousands of young people either encounter Christ or fall more deeply in love with him.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019