By RENEE WEBB
When it comes to forming youth in the Catholic faith, one parish in the Diocese of Sioux City has called upon the power of prayer from fellow parishioners to help in the effort.
Mary Lehr, director of faith formation at Mater Dei Parish, asked parishioners of Nativity at the start of the school/religious education year if they wanted to be part of an intercessory prayer group for youth.
She specifically asked daily Mass-goers because she had witnessed how they were so faithful in praying for everyone in the parish, but anyone can be part of the effort.
“I just felt as though God wanted me to do this, so I started it and it took off from there,” the faith formation director explained.
Lehr asked them to commit to prayer and fasting on Wednesdays, petitioning Our Lady of Perpetual Help for her intercession. How they pray is up to the individual and this allows each person to do it in a way that is meaningful to them.
Along with youth receiving prayers, Lehr felt this was a way for parishioners to connect with youth of the parish.
“In this day and age, it’s so important we pray for our youth,” she said. “They are going through a lot.”
About 20 parishioners of Nativity were involved in the intercessory prayer last year and many continued this prayerful effort through the summer and into the second year. With Nativity and Immaculate Conception combining into one parish over the summer, Mater Dei parishioners from Immaculate Conception have also been invited to join in the ministry.
For Mary Kay Daniels, a parishioner at Mater Dei, agreeing to be one of the intercessors was an easy decision because she prays for the youth of her parish and the diocese on a daily basis.
“I feel that prayer is what sustains the religious education program,” she said. “I feel it’s crucial to pray for youth – to know who Jesus is and to invite Jesus to be their best friend.”
As a daily Mass attendee, Daniels has made a habit of praying for youth after Communion.
“I also pray during the day and I fast for the kids because I really think they have major challenges,” she noted. “It seems the consciousness of our whole culture is changing, and I want to see our kids stay faithful.”
Adele Weiland, a Mater Dei parishioner, is a retired school teacher who volunteers as a catechist. Taking part in the intercessory prayer group is another way to stay connected to the youth.
“As we grow older, it’s nice to remain in touch with our youth,” she said. “Praying for and with them can unite our hearts in serving the Lord and to once again feel God’s presence in a very special way.”
Weiland, who prays daily for her parish and the entire Sioux City Catholic community, believes she gets more from the youth than what she gets from them.
“You can just feel the Holy Spirit alive with the children,” she said. “I am very happy and thankful to be close to the Lord and I want to share that with anyone who is willing to listen. Children seem to be the best listeners.”
Kathy Tobias, who is also a retired school teacher and current catechist at Mater Dei, committed to the intercessory prayer group to not only help the youth but she also has a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
Knowing that the Lord has told the faithful to turn to his mother, Tobias said, “We know that she will go to him with our prayer and ask him to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we pray to Mary, we are seeking help to be one of Jesus’s disciples. We ask for help to bring the good news to our children as he did.”
As a catechist, Tobias said, she seeks Mary’s help to ask God to give them knowledge and skills needed to guide them through the process of presentation, application, reflection and decisions so they may feel God’s love, share the good news with others and enjoy eternal happiness.
Father Dan Rupp, pastor of Mater Dei, sees value in having such a group because “prayers are very powerful. Youth need prayers. I needed prayers when I was young and they are no different than I.”
Lehr wanted to begin this prayer-filled ministry because she believes intercessors can help bring God in, in a more powerful way.
“This type of group is important in any ministry,” she said.
The number of parishioners who have agreed to serve as prayer intercessors was larger than what Lehr had anticipated and this shows her “that they really want to pray for our youth.”
Even though in most cases prayers are offered on an individual basis, Lehr said the intercessors form a community by uniting in prayer for a common petition.
“This is a God-thing,” she said. “If the group prospers, it’s because God made it prosper.”