CANADA-UNITED STATES“Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice”
As the oldest of three children, Brother Daniel DIONNE was raised a Catholic but drifted away in his early years. “I became interested in the Oblates through the Oblate outreach to youth in TEC (Teens Encounter Christ). I found the God element in me that I had left behind in my young years. It was through the Oblates that I was brought back to religion as fun and an adventure. I was grounded in it [TEC]!”
This first experience with TEC sparked a faith beginning to grow within his soul. “I wanted to know how they did that when the very Church resources in the past had failed to do that [spark my faith]. So I started being friendly with the Oblates.”
He did not arrive at the Oblate doorstep immediately. It was only after five years of volunteer youth ministry in Northern Manitoba and the Northwest Territories that he entered the Oblate novitiate in Winnipeg.
Twelve years ago he joined forces with Mike DECHANT and came to work in youth ministry in St. Charles Parish and then in the Edmonton Catholic School System. The past seven years have been with the St. Albert Catholic School System.
When asked what it means to be a part of youth ministry, he states: “It is understanding what is sacred through the eyes of youth. It means being an advocate for youth. It means enabling youth to work with youth, and youth to trust youth. It means helping them to discover what it means to communicate with others. It means growing in an awareness of the world in which we live.
“Family is very important to the lives of youth. It is through family that we understand the origins of our faith. It is in family that we find ourselves and are nourished by the family.” He continued: “It always amazes me how much I gain in knowledge of young people by getting to know their parents and siblings.
“Family is more and more crucial to youth ministry. The more my ministry develops toward youth, the more it becomes a family ministry. I do not think we can understand people without understanding the context in which they live. It was true of all Aboriginal peoples, all peoples from various ethnic groups and it is of the very nature of youth.” We must read and understand youth precisely in their own context.
In St. Albert, the Oblate Youth Ministry team has been hired by the Catholic School District to provide leadership and be a presence of religious education, liturgical support, counseling, evangelization and providing spiritual experiences that will lead to conversion. In summary Dan frames the work of youth ministry: “Most importantly it is to have a good venue of Church.”
Dan has a very strong sense and passion to make youth welcome into Church. He has difficulties when there is a resistance on the part of pastoral leadership to be welcoming to youth. He asked: “Are they afraid of youth? Do the not know how to talk to youth?
“I have an easy way to speak with youth whether it is at the hardware store or down at the coffee shop. They are the easiest people in the whole world to talk to. A young girl said to me. ‘We’re not complicated. We do not have huge expectations. If you feed us and pay attention to us, we’re there!’” He shook his head. “I knew that!” (www.omilacombe.ca)