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Youth learn, grow in faith during Totus Tuus

Hill City — Discussing the anointing of the sick, the meaning of “Amen,” and suggestions for discerning a future vocation were just part of a day’s work for the Totus Tuus team that welcomed youth of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Hill City and St. Joseph Parish in Damar to the program in mid-June. “With the younger kids, we cover all the sacraments, but we talk a lot about the Eucharist and about the progression between what happened to Jesus on Holy Thursday night at the last supper and his suffering and death,” said team member Chris Hilger. “With the older kids, we talk about the importance of the sacraments. We give them the basics and then we have the opportunity for a group discussion where they can talk or ask questions.”

The team, comprised of Hilger, Claire Friess, Torrie Gregg and Kenny Snider, spent the week of June 16-21 in Hill City. The team worked with elementary school-aged children from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day and middle and high school-aged youth from 7 to 9 p.m. each evening at Immaculate Heart of Mary’s C.C.D. Center. “This is my second summer with Totus Tuus,” said Friess, a May 2019 graduate of Benedictine College and a native of Hoxie. “I’m amazed to see how much of an impact we can make on these kids’ lives in five days, but I also know we [the team members] may never see the rewards and that we may only be planting the seed.”

Each summer, the academic focus of the program shifts. This year, the program focuses on helping young people develop a deeper understanding of the seven sacraments and the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Each day of the program the team brought their message of these vital parts of the faith to the students through formal lessons, skits, songs, games and discussions. Courtney and Justin Zohner, parents of Totus Tuus participants Geoffrey, Vincent and Izzy, said they’ve been impressed with the program. “They’ve just received a lot of great information,” said Courtney. “It’s been a good blend of fun and learning,” agreed Justin. “They’ve done a good job of mixing things up.” “We’ve seen some positive behavior changes in a lot of the younger kids,” said Wendy Keith, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish’s RCIA Director and volunteer for the week. “There is an excitement in the kids when they’re doing their review and they’re excited to come back every day.”

In addition to teaching about the sacraments and rosary, daily prayer is also a priority for both groups as well as the Totus Tuus team. During the day, the first through sixth grade students learned and prayed a decade of the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, attended Mass and prayed The Angelus prior to eating lunch. Their day also ended in prayer. “We learned about the agony in the garden,” said six-year-old Cash Haynes. “I liked it ’cause Jesus was praying. And did you know he was sweating blood? And then he got arrested, but he forgived us and he died for us.” “I’ve really liked going to Mass,” said Rowan Granberry, an incoming seventh grade student. “It’s been kinda quiet and calming.”

For the middle and high school students, the evening began with prayer and the group ended with night prayer, part of the Liturgy of the Hours. In addition to their prayers with the students, the team members also prayed morning prayer, a rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and evening prayer together each day, and took time throughout the week for personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. “It’s good for our kids to see these college students who have such a knowledge of their faith … to show them it’s cool,” said volunteer Tanya Hamel, a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Damar. “They start each evening by visiting with the older kids. They’ve really worked on generating good conversation and on bonding with those kids.”

While their educational backgrounds, faith journeys and experience working with young people vary, the Totus Tuus team members agreed that their time with the program this summer had been fulfilling. “We just pray the ground becomes fertile for those seeds,” added Hilger, a University of Kansas graduate, who recently spent one semester in the seminary for the Salina Diocese before discerning out. “With this program I’ve realized there is so much I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been humbling when a kid of any age asks me a question and I don’t always have an answer. I know it’s not about my ability, but God using me as an instrument to serve them.” Gregg is a sophomore at Fort Hays State University in Hays, where she grew up. “It’s been exciting to see the little ones’ eyes get big and to see their reactions when they learn or realize that the Eucharist is really Jesus,” she said. “We’re always told to have a child-like faith and being with these kids has reminded me it’s good to ask questions.”

Snider, a resident of Linn, who recently completed nine months on the staff of SPIRITUS, a Catholic evangelization program in Wisconsin, said the experience he gained during his time in SPIRITUS helped prepare him for his summer with Totus Tuus. “I learned a lot about classroom management and that patience is key,” he said. “This summer, the talk about the sacraments has helped me deepen my faith. I’ve also come out of my comfort zone a bit more and have learned that it’s OK to open up and be honest and to offer more praise and encouragement.”

As Father Henry Saw Lone, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Joseph parishes, watched the end of the program the younger Totus Tuus students performed for their parents, he smiled and said, “Summer should be a time for growth; not just physically, but growth in knowing God. “These young people teaching our young people … this is very good for the summer!”

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