The air at the beautiful St Antony of Padua Church, Ras Al Khaimah is thick with excitement as about 800 teenagers from parishes across the United Arab Emirates ? including two from Oman - gathered to attend the 2nd Vicariate-wide TUFF (Teens United For Faith) meet from October 17-18, 2014.
Led by the National Evangelisation Team from Ireland, the teenagers, between the ages of 14-18, were given presentations on various sessions, including Living with Christ, Defending your faith, What it means to be a Catholic and the Importance of God in one's life, among others.
The energetic team of 13 NET ministers peppered the sessions with music, fun activities, short sketches and skits and testimonials by young volunteers to help the teens relate better to the sessions - some of which dealt with rather complex issues including the day-to-day challenges and nuances of being a teenager in today's fast-expanding world.
The question-answer session with Bishop Paul Hinder saw the young, curious minds put forward a volley of questions ranging from sexuality to advice on leading a life in Christ. The teens were won over by straightforwardness with which Bishop Paul tackled each question. He made use of simple language to communicate the core values of the church and used examples from his own life to help illustrate his responses. ?Young people are spontaneous, and they ask direct questions. They often do not know where to look for answers,? said Bishop Paul, adding, ?on some difficult questions, it is necessary to provide confidentiality so that the teens can come forward and seek answers from the Church?
"You are important to me so I came to spend two days with you!" said Bishop Paul Hinder to the gathering as he weaved in and out of the crowd, mingling with the teenagers who swarm around him, and sat among the audience with the excited youngsters. ?When the Bishop comes down to the level of the teens, they feel loved and special. He is a father figure and they all look up to him and love him,? said Juliete Mascarenhas, a Saint Mary's Church, Dubai parishioner who volunteered for the event.
Small group sessions were conducted by specially-trained resource persons to guide and individually cater to each curious young mind. ?The small group sessions helped me understand the sessions better,? said Calvin Marian, 15, from St Michael's Catholic Church, Sharjah. ?In smaller groups, children are inspired to shed their inhibitions and share what they've learned with each other,? said Sr Ania Kozuszek, a resource person.
When asked about their favorite part of the retreat, most teenagers unanimously picked the interactive session with the Bishop. ?It was wonderful to have the Bishop answer our questions. The QnA touched upon a lot of topics and cleared most of our doubts,? said Clifford Pinto, 16, from St Michael's Catholic Church, Sharjah. ?I enjoyed the skits and talks,? said Allen Joe, 14, from St Mary's Catholic Church, Dubai. ?The dancing and music were my favorite part,? said Joseph Vincent, 14, from St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Jebel Ali. ?I really liked the food too!? said Rohan, from Saint Mary's Church, Dubai, with a cheeky smile.
Priests from parishes across the UAE were brought in to facilitate confessions for the teens which were held on the sidelines of the sessions.?You can see the momentum build up as the sessions progress,? said Kate Miles Flynn, Director of the Office of Christian Formation. ?Over the course of the two-day retreat, the teens go from being boisterous and excited to calm, introspective and meditative.?
?Many families in migrant societies like ours are often success or money oriented, and their children are raised with these values. While this is not a bad thing, one must be careful not to let our values and human relations take a backseat to these ideals,? the Bishop said. He stressed on the importance of cultivating a hunger and thirst for Christ. ?Parents and guardians must educate them and show them how to live a life in Christ through their actions instead of cornering or coercing them,? he said.