By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
GARLAND — When catechist Luz Santiago introduced “Chosen: This is your Catholic Faith” for teens at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in September, she said that she sensed some skepticism in the second-year Confirmation class for RCIA participants.
Her purchase of red tote bags for the 26 eighth-through-12th graders met with a lukewarm response from some students who probably regarded the Monday night class as yet another obligation in their busy schedules, Santiago said.
But not only did the teens warm up to the “Chosen” faith formation program, but they also began to take pride in the tote bags, which kept their assignments organized and helped students from Garland, Mesquite, Forney and other nearby communities to form a connection.
“It was eye-opening to see how their attitudes have changed,” said Santiago, a retired elementary school teacher who previously taught faith formation to younger children. “Now, the kids will come up to me and say, ‘Hi,’ when they see me at Mass. When the class started, some of the boys were kind of, ‘Eh.’ ”
“Chosen” is a faith formation program by Ascension Press that incorporates engaging, thought-provoking videos and small-group discussions at intervals during the films. The content shares the Catholic faith in a meaningful way for teens, who get to speak their minds to each other and a facilitator about what they are learning, in class and in their lives.
“During the videos, you experience feelings you never even thought about,” said Mariel Lamai, an eighth-grader from Forney, whose father, Albert, also attends the class. “From Day One, you could see that Mrs. Santiago clearly is very organized and hard-working. She definitely goes above and beyond.”
Youth Is Served
In tackling teen faith formation for the first time, Santiago brought great joy, energy and teaching insights to her ministry.
She took painstaking care in planning each lesson, previewing and timing each video, and setting up the classroom. Her initiatives included tapping her love of arts and crafts to create a compelling painting with the theme of the Holy Spirit for the classroom. She brings each student’s favorite treats to celebrate a birthday.
“You can’t just put the video on for the class and go home,” she said. “Over the summer, I sat down and watched every single video and read every lesson. The program also has a book component that is important. The students have a challenge of the week, maybe to be especially nice to someone who has not asked them to be nice.”
Santiago also recruited her husband, José, to be a class discussion aide.
“It was a challenge to go out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I’ve seen them starting to open up more.”
Sherri Williams, St. Michael’s Parish catechetical leader, had longed to launch “Chosen” for several years before the day last summer when Santiago happened to spot the program’s videos and materials in Williams’ office.
“I’d been praying for someone to teach it,” Williams said. “It requires a self-starter, a go-getter. When Luz noticed the videos in my office and asked about them, I told her that nobody here had tried the program. She took it home and she ran with it. She previewed all the materials and—Boom!—she brought me a lesson plan.
“This was our maiden voyage with ‘Chosen,’ and we’re already seeing the fruits in the students’ more open faces. They’re volunteering with good attitudes and good spirits.”
The parents also have found the class enlightening, Lamai said.
“It’s a very good program that equips us in terms of knowledge,” he said. “The parents are also the students. The parents are also getting to know each other better than they can at Mass.”
Parents sit in groups apart from the teens and discuss the faith topics presented in the videos. During a recent class, 18 parents sat at four tables and chatted earnestly about a question asked in the video—“Where am I headed with the choices I’m making right now?”
“It’s awesome having the parents present,” Santiago said. “They might not have had the preparation, and they have questions. They really are enjoying the program.”
Lamai said that he would like the program to be available to parishioners beyond those who are preparing for Confirmation.
“When we first arrived for the class, we were like, ‘What’s this?’ ” he said. “The more we come here, the faster the time goes. You don’t feel the time passing, which tells me something. The things that are discussed in the program make you feel so empowered that you wish others could experience it.”