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LIFE TEEN advances youth ministry and influences teens

Sarah Vabulas | Thursday, October 9, 2003

Imagine a world where over 100,000 high school teenagers from across the world attend Catholic Mass each Sunday night. A world where those teenagers love the Mass and are proud to call themselves Catholic, while striving to live a faith filled, holy life.

Well, this world has become a reality. In 1985, Monsignor Dale Fushek, youth minister Phil Baniewicz and music minister Tom Booth began a youth program at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church in Mesa, Ariz. – this faith movement was called LIFE TEEN. Fushek and Baniewicz came up with name LIFE TEEN (over Chinese food), giving a strong indication that the program would not only stand up for the dignity of life, but that it would be life-giving for every teenager who became a part of it.

About 600 people attended first LIFE TEEN Mass. Close to 200 teens remained for the first LIFE Night. Within two months, the LIFE TEEN Mass averaged over 1,000 people, while the LIFE Nights averaged about 300 teens. Following the popularity, LIFE TEEN’s first music group assembled. Some of the original members remain with the band today.

The mission statement says, “LIFE TEEN, Inc., is an international Catholic ministry that serves the Church and leads all teens closer to Christ by providing resources and training that encourage vibrant Eucharistic celebrations and opportunities for teens to grow in their faith.”

LIFE TEEN has over 900 parishes in 13 countries with two national offices, one in Mesa, Ariz. and another in Marietta, Ga. the national offices run the bigger aspects of LIFE TEEN, including sending out LIFE Support a few times a year, a package put together by national employees that help parishes with pre-designed LIFE Nights and guides to the Mass.

The national employees work hard to keep LIFE TEEN alive. “LIFE TEEN is a grace of God. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. We’re just a bunch of goofballs, just working for God,” said Phil Baniewicz, the president of LIFE TEEN and a Notre Dame graduate student in the Mendoza College of Business.

Baniewicz sees LIFE TEEN headed in a good direction. “The Internet is a big way to bring people in more. Makes the Church smaller by being able to connect. LIFETEEN.com will continue to be important. Secondly, we are seeing that we need to put more emphasis on other countries since they are asking for help. We also see a greater need for good youth ministers, musicians and people like that. We are trying to train people for that. It is why we have the LIFE TEEN Leadership Conference held every summer at Notre Dame. We are also looking to develop some international training institute in Arizona.”

LIFE TEEN hosts many national camps and retreats throughout the year, both for youth ministers and teens. The biggest teen conference is held at Notre Dame each summer, bringing together teenagers from all states and many countries.

LIFE TEEN also has speakers who travel each weekend, visiting parishes and sharing their gifts and talents with different churches and teens. Mark Hart, a 1995 graduate of Notre Dame, is vice president of LIFE TEEN and is most commonly known as the “Bible Geek.” Matt Smith, the LIFE TEEN Webmaster for LIFETEEN.com and national spokesperson, appeared on Real World Season 9: New Orleans and now on the new Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet, which premieres tonight.

“LIFE TEEN is a movement. It is answering and fulfilling a need. People think that it is just for teenagers, but it is not. I have watched people of all ages embrace and better understand their Catholic faith. People have a deeper experience of God at Liturgy. They see His love and His mercy better than they ever had before,” said Hart. “I’ve seen lots of solid, young guys entering seminary because LIFE TEEN played a part. It has provided many holy vocations to the priesthood and to marriage. It is responding to the call from Vatican II as good as any call.”

Mike Sweeney, an All-Star first baseman from the Kansas City Royals, supports LIFE TEEN and it’s efforts to “lead teens closer to Christ.” He donates to the program, while attending mass at St. Timothy’s during the off-season.

Third Day, one of the most popular contemporary Christian rock bands, allowed Matt Smith to tour with them for a week this past summer. They, too, are aware of the power of this program to make a difference in teens’ lives.

“LIFE TEEN is a great program to do youth minister because it is a framework to reprogram for your teenagers,” said Sacred Heart Parish youth minister, Thaddeus Ruszkowski, also a graduate student in the Mendoza College of Business. “[LIFE TEEN] gives you enough to customize for your teenagers. They encourage you to customize to your teenagers. They recognize that teenagers in Atlanta are different than teenagers in New York City.”

LIFE TEEN is sweeping across the country and the world, making a difference in everyone who is involved. It has moved past remaining inside the doors of parishes to being found places people wouldn’t likely think it to be – like MTV.

For more information about LIFE TEEN, visit the official web site at www.lifeteen.com. To see a LIFE TEEN parish at work, visit the Sacred Heart LIFE TEEN Parish site at www.nd.edu/~sacheart/LIFE_TEEN.

Contact Sarah Vabulas at vabu4547@saintmarys.edu