Q&A: We must teach young people the value of suffering

Father Peter Cameron, founding editor-in-chief of Magnificat, to speak on evangelizing youth in Denver April 9

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Father Peter Cameron, OP, spoke to the Denver Catholic about his upcoming presentation for the St. John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver April 9, titled “Evangelizing Youth Today.” Father Cameron is the founding editor-in-chief of Magnificat and currently serves as the Director of Formation for Hard as Nails Ministries, a nation-wide apostolate for young people. The interview has been edited for brevity.

Denver Catholic: Based on your experience, what would you say are some of the greatest needs of young people in the Church in the United States?

Father Peter Cameron, OP, is the Director of Formation for Hard as Nails Ministries and the founding editor-in-chief of Magnificat. (Photo provided)

Father Peter Cameron: I would say one of the greatest needs facing young people in the United States is loneliness. Loneliness isn’t simply the result of being without people in our lives or being solitary. It’s possible to succumb to loneliness when we have people around us, when we have family. Part of the problem comes from the fact that young people don’t have someone to give them that gaze of love and appreciation, and similarly, they have no one that maybe listens to them.

Sometimes young people can be carrying very hefty burdens and even their best friends don’t know what they’re going through. These issues are never talked about and these young people feel completely isolated with this burden that they’re forced to carry along. I think that’s really the principal issue. In reading the document of the Synod on Young People, I noticed that that was one of the principal concerns listed, as well.

DC: What aspect from the Synod on Young People do you think can be especially useful in evangelization?

FPC: One of the points is that nobody can evangelize a young person like another young person. As the document points out, when young people speak about their experience, it is something that can’t be discounted or debated. So, if evangelization starts with presenting arguments or theological judgments, it’s possible that people will not pay attention. But when someone speaks about their own sufferings, how they overcame them, how that led them to Jesus Christ, etc., this is something that nobody can gainsay.

And secondly, that it is important to implement new methods for listening to young people. It means being willing to suffer with them and not be intimidated by their problems. I think there’s a tendency to give up too easily on  young people because of their struggles. But I think the job of the modern-day evangelist is primarily to walk with the person and love them, bring them to the awareness that they’re amazing, that they’re valuable, not because of what they have or what they have accomplished, but simply because God has loved them into existence, that the person is a child of God and there’s nothing anyone can do to ever change that.

DC: How does the Hard as Nails Ministries carry out this mission of evangelizing youth so successfully?

FPC: The Hard as Nails Ministries is a national evangelization apostolate with a special outreach to young people, and particularly young people who are suffering, especially from anxiety, depression, bullying, being marginalized, addiction, etc.

What Hard as Nails has been doing since 2002, through the founder Justin Fatica, is going to people who are suffering, suffering with them and giving them a chance to voice their challenges, and then we teach them how to suffer well and give them the assurance that their suffering has a value. People will leave some of our events feeling grateful for the suffering in their lives. We want to bring people to the Cross of Jesus Christ and help them see the good in suffering.

We also have the Hard as Nails missionaries, who are 18- to 20-year-olds, who sacrifice a year of their lives and undergo a very rigorous formation: spiritual, pastoral, human and even physical — all of this geared to being able to stand in front of young people and to love them, care for them, listen to them, and teach them a way of embracing their suffering through a life of faith, a life of prayer, that they themselves model.

When they have gone through their training, they come out very well-equipped for going on the road and taking on any group of young people that is willing to listen to them, whether it be a public or Catholic high school, or a confirmation group. We call them Carmelite Marines because they pray nearly three hours a day and they’re very well versed in ways of prayer and Scripture, but they’re also tough and actually thrive on being rejected and humiliated. EWTN was so entranced by the Hard as Nails approach to evangelization that they produced a television series a few years ago called “You are Amazing with Justin Fatica,” which still runs on the EWTN website and on YouTube.

DC: What are some of the greatest fruits you have seen from this ministry?

FPC: Sometimes, on the spot, young people will admit suffering, pain, hurt or brokenness that they’ve never been able to talk about before, and you can just see the weight being lifted from them. We know it’s real because a major aspect of the Hard as Nails approach to evangelization is a very extensive follow-up program that provides everyone who comes to the ministry with a customized Hard as Nails Bible, containing the fundamental knowledge and Catechism needed for living a life of faith. Most importantly, the young people are taught to stay together as Catholics through a spiritual exercise developed by Hard as Nails called “Passion,” in which they share about their lives in a group, and then read the Gospel and reflect on it in the light of what people have shared. One of the greatest fruits is that these Passion groups now exist in various parts of the country. And there are young people who are in them and who are running them.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?

FPC: I give a lot of talks to priests and they are very often fatalistic about the possibility of evangelizing young people. And I think that they consider the lure of the world to be greater than anything that we or the Gospel can propose to them, and it’s simply not so. Once a young person is paid attention to and their dignity is shown to them and they’re cared for, something breaks open and you just see them radiate. It’s not difficult to do that with a young person. So, I hope that the talk will be an encouragement to anyone who listens to it to be certain that they can be that message of grace for youth, especially those who are suffering — that the love of Jesus Christ that we have is exactly what they’re waiting for, and that we’re courageous, authentic and obedient enough to offer it to young people.

St. John Paul II Lecture Series

Tuesday, April 9, 7p.m.

St. John Vianney Refectory.

Visit archden.org/lecture to RSVP

COMING UP: Denver’s first Catholic classical high school opens under patronage of Our Lady of Victory

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Nearly half a millennium ago, thousands of Catholics heeded Pope Pius V’s call to pray the Rosary requesting Our Lady’s intercession for the deliverance of Europe from Turkish invasion.

In a miraculous triumph, at what came to be known as the “Battle of Lepanto,” the outnumbered Christian “Holy League” overcame the Turkish forces, winning Our Lady of the Rosary a new advocation: Our Lady of Victory.

Today, Denver’s new and first Catholic classical high school has chosen Our Lady of Victory as its patroness, with the mission of developing the whole person and forming students who are holy, well-educated and prepared to engage the present culture and contribute to society.

Our Lady of Victory High School is part of the Chesterton Schools Network, which encourages parent-led Catholic schools across the nation, inspired by the life and work of G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a poem about the victory at Lepanto.

Although the school is not an archdiocesan high school, it has been officially recognized by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila as a Catholic school. This fall’s inaugural 9th grade class will launch at the St. Louis Parish School building in Denver with nearly 20 students.

“Chesterton’s model of joyful Catholicism draws upon the classical tradition but is very evangelical: It engages the culture with a joyful approach to being Catholic… rather than a reactionary one,” said Dr. R. Jared Staudt, President of the school, Director of Formation at the Archdiocese of Denver and Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute. “We want to form saints to go out and do great things for the Lord within our culture.”

The classical education approach highlights the trivium (logic, grammar and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy).

“We emphasize Socratic dialogue as well as the trivium: how to read texts carefully and understand them through grammar, how to think about them in a coherent manner through logic, and then how to express yourself well in writing and speech through rhetoric; but also the quadrivium: How do we understand the logical order and beauty of the universe?” Dr. Staudt explained.

The benefits of this type of education are many, he assured.

“It’s not just a practical output, but about forming strong dispositions of thinking, of being able to evaluate things, being able to form a plan of action for your life that will translate into being successful in the future.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things,” Dr. Staudt said.

Part of what makes this goal possible is the communion between faith and reason. Students begin the school day with daily Mass; read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, etc.; and study the Bible and the Catechism. They participate in a curriculum where history, philosophy, literature and theology are “braided together,” as their website states.

Part of what makes it unique is also its approach to the fine arts and to mathematics and science.

“We emphasize the fine arts because we want the students to be engaged with beauty and wonder… We want to humanize them, to make them more fully alive,” Dr. Staudt said.

“I would say we also approach math and science from that perspective. We take math and science very seriously, but not as something dry and textbook based, but something that is engaging the beauty, the logic, the wonder of the universe, and the fact that we can logically understand [it] because it is itself something that is a creative work of a mind, of God’s mind, and his beauty is impressed within it.”

As part of this approach, the school has implemented in its unique formation a lot of time in the outdoors, beginning the year with a three-day backpacking trip with the students and ending with a whitewater rafting trip.
The school also plans on having retreats throughout the year, attending and hosting fine arts events and providing service opportunities for its students.

“I think that’s truly part of what makes us unique, that we want to develop the whole person: body, mind and soul,” Dr. Staudt explained.

“It’s about becoming the person that God wants us to become… We emphasize the fundamental things that shape who we are, so that, secondarily, we are also good at doing things.”

The seed for the foundations of the school began with the desire of a group of Denver Catholic parents for a holistic, classical formation for their children, also motived by the need for a Catholic high school in the South Denver metro area.

Hoping to open a Catholic classical high school for their children in the future, six dads organized a series of monthly talks titled “The First Educators” at St. Mary Parish in Littleton from September to November 2018 as a first step to help in this direction.

Little did they know that their dream would become reality only a few months later, with the help of Dr. Staudt, the Chesterton Schools Network and the support of other parents around the archdiocese.

With six experienced teachers on board, the mission-driven school is set to begin forming students in the classical tradition.

“We want them to be holy. I would say that is our biggest overarching goal, that we want to form saints in the sense that they are thinking people who are well-educated and well prepared to engage the world and make a contribution in society – but [in a way] that holiness integrates everything else that we do,” Dr. Staudt concluded.

For more information, visit ourladyofvictorydenver.com.