HEBRON – In diocesan parishes large and small this summer, children and teens have been guided to better know, love and serve the Lord by Totus Tuus missionary team members who pledge to be “totally yours,” as is the Latin namesake phrase for the youth mission.
Youths did not want to leave and team members felt “a great grace…” as they ministered to participants of Totus Tuus held at St. Helen for the first time.
On July 2, the five-day program wound down at the Hebron parish. The conclusion of the children’s component of the program ended with more of a crescendo of learning activities and wet and wild outdoor fun than somber goodbyes.
Eighteen first through six graders crisscrossed the St. Helen hall, hearing a lesson about devotion to the Blessed Mother from diocesan seminarian Ivan Alatorre, or playing a quiz show and ball toss game lead by Nina DeBoer, a Dyer native who is discerning a religious vocation.
In some situations, Alatorre, a Sacred Heart Major Seminary of Detroit student, may wear the Roman collar, but in the case of the classroom lesson, he donned a white mitre and robe while periodically reminding students he was actually St. John Paul II.
Youngsters rang out with calls of, “Wait, you’re Mr. Ivan,” or “St. John Paul didn’t wear glasses.” Undeterred, Alatorre continued to impart on the children that a true devotion to Mary means a strong relationship with Jesus and finding one’s true calling.
“A lot of the kids did not know the story of Pope John Paul II,” Alatorre said. “I explained what the priesthood and religious life is and what the married (and single life) are. I incorporated saints within our modern day that fit within each of those vocations. I talked about St. Gianna Molla for married life.
He continued, “I tried to include how they lived out their lives in holiness so the kids could say, ‘Wow, I could do this.’”
Later the missionary team would meet with junior and senior high school students, presenting more sophisticated talks about the Ten Commandments and concepts such as the Theology of the Body, as promulgated by St. John Paul II.
The phrase Totus Tuus was the apostolic motto of St. John Paul II and was borrowed from the 18th century St. Louis de Montfort. The words speak to the late Polish pontiff’s Marian devotion, influenced by his country’s devout Catholic identity and a source of strength throughout his historic papacy.
The Totus Tuus missionary team members were well-versed in St. Louis de Montfort's devotions, summarized in the saint’s words: “The more a soul is consecrated to Mary, the more it is consecrated to Jesus."
Marian devotions came into particular focus when DeBoer led the youth by acting out and praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.
St. Helen associate pastor Father Frank Torres celebrated Mass, a daily feature of the summer program. The liturgy concluded with missionary Lauren Meade leading youth singing the hymn, “Father, I Adore You.” The participation level suggested they had previously known the song, but the Columbus, Ind. native said they were just “quick learners.”
Ready for the fun they were promised at the religious education session, the boys and girls brought out water pistols, and pump action canons in preparation for a water fight on the hot blacktop behind the parish hall.
Another activity that could cool down a participant on a hot summer day – and certainly make them sticky – was about to occur, bringing the faith and fun event to a conclusion.
Alatorre changed into swim trunks and a t-shirt and sat in the middle of an inflatable pool. Wearing goggles, the seminarian would submit himself to being squirted by the youth with chocolate syrup, sprinkled with cake toppings and drizzled with caramel.
The whimsical end to the serious religious education series was topped off with a maraschino cherry, and a smile from a gracious seminarian.
After the fun in the sun, nine-year-old Kellan Packard of Lakes of the Four Seasons dried off with his brother, Camden Packard, 7.
They had just emptied “two cans in total of Hershey’s Chocolate syrup and two mini jars of sprinkles” on top of Alatorre, who was then hosed off.
“I wish I could be here every week because it’s so fun and it helps me understand more about the Church and the Mysteries of the Rosary,” said Kellan Packard. “The teachers are great, and they have a lot of great activities.”
Packard said he wishes to share what he learned with others, “I’m one of those kids (who) whatever teachers are teaching, I pay close attention to it because I want to get it right. And I keep that in my head for memory so if anybody needs help, I'll probably be able to help them.”
Six-year-old Hannah Martin of Valparaiso said she enjoyed answering questions and playing the trivia ball toss game, but found one activity to be particularly sweet, “I enjoyed sundae-ing him,” she said after sprinkling toppings on Alatorre.
The missionaries’ contributions did not go unnoticed by St. Helen volunteers and the parish director of religious education.
“I'm so inspired by the team, their energy and what they’ve gotten these young people to do,” said Karen Yankauskas, St. Helen DRE. “They’re singing and responding in church; it’s just an inspiration to see the young people teaching the young people.”
Seminarian and Totus Tuus team member Colin van Waardenburg complimented the creativity of the female missionaries who captured the attention of the youth through music and storytelling.
Meade, in turn, reminded the gentlemen that the experience has furthered their journey of discernment.
“I think if you would have met Ivan and Colin in training, they are both punctual, classy and analytical ... But I can really tell that they’ve broken out of their shells,” Meade explained. “Nina and I have talked about seeing how joyful and hard (the seminarians) have been working to minister to the kids.”