Because you are baptized, you are claimed by
Jesus Christ. You are a vital part of the Church on earth.
You have gifts and abilities from God for the good of others.
Your unique contributions continue a tradition in the Church
throughout its journey.
This Youth Update highlights teenagers
who have contributed to the Church and the world by action
and example, often in dramatic and heroic ways. Six eras of
the Church's story in which incredible youth made a contribution
challenge you to consider what a teen Catholic Christian can
The First Century
The very first Christian was a girl about 14.
Her name was Mary and her willingness to say yes to the invitation
to be the mother of the Lord still amazes. This young girl
was full of grace as well as courage!
Christianity, in a real sense, owes its beginnings
to a girl about the age of today's high school freshman. The
Gospel stories of Jesus' birth tell us that Mary had to endure
gossip about her pregnancy, terror in the face of Herod's
madness and immigration to a foreign land (Egypt), all before
her 16th birthday!
Perhaps, like Mary, you've been the victim of
vicious gossip or you've found yourself in a situation when
God's love alone could sustain you. Mary was one teen who
relied solely on the grace of God.
John Mark was another important first-century
adolescent. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first
missionary journey. Like many people away from home for the
first time, John Mark got homesick. Has something like that
ever happened to you? Mark's homesickness threw the apostles
a curve. They argued about bringing Mark along on their second
Sadly, Paul and Barnabas went their separate
ways, ending their joint missionary efforts as well as their
friendship. (Saints aren't perfect!) Paul seemed to have less
patience with teenage imperfections than Barnabas.
Mark chose to travel with Barnabas and, according
to legend, eventually hooked up with Peter. Tradition says
that this was the Mark who wrote the first Gospel.
One could say that Mark invented the
Gospel style of storytelling. After a less-than-perfect beginning,
Mark has had an influence on Christianity that is at least
equal to that of any early Christian. His Gospel became the
basis for both Matthew's and Luke's as well.
The Early Centuries
The Church's early centuries (200-500) were
filled with uncertainty and persecution. Adolescent Christians
responded with grit and love. Do you know any teenage girls
who cannot be swayed once they make up their minds? Three
early Christian young women, Agatha, Lucy and Agnes, fit that
style. They were Christians during the days of the gladiators,
when being Christian was against the Roman law.
Ever had a hard time telling a girlfriend or
boyfriend that you don't want to get serious right now? This
happened to Agatha in the third century and Lucy and Agnes
in the fourth. This so angered their boy`friends that they
reported to the law that the girls were followers of Christianity.
All three courageously endured terrible sufferings.
Agnes, Agatha and Lucy died faithful to Jesus
and they inspired generations after them. Their names were
mentioned in the greatest of all thanksgiving prayers, The
Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, for over 1600 years. They
are still mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer I, one of the official
prayers the worshiping community can pray at Mass.
The Dark Ages
Church history is filled with scandals in which
Christians used violence against other Christians. In the
1300s, the English king laid claim to the crown of France.
Historians refer to this bloody period as the Hundred Years
In the midst of division and chaos among the
French came a 16-year-old peasant girl named Joan. Joan believed
that God wanted France to have self-rule. She was a teenager
of tremendous faith, virtue and courage, uniting her people.
But Joan faced serious challenges. She refused
to submit herself to the military leadership of men. She believed
that being a woman didn't make her unfit to lead armies. She
didn't dress the way her elders thought she should, but as
Have your parents ever complained to you about
your choice of clothing? Joan invented alternative
dress! She wore metal long before it came into vogue. She
questioned the authority of some of her elders both in government
and in the Church. Her martyrdom inspired millions, and her
memory was a beacon of hope for the French people during the
world wars of the 20th century.
No era has produced more anguish than the Reformation
(1500-1600). The Church was divided by poor judgments and
terrible actions on both sides, Catholic and Protestant. Shining
lights were few. Among these lights were two young men named
Stanislaus Kostka and Aloysius (Al-o-WISH-us) Gonzaga.
Coming from wealth and influence, Stanislaus's
family objected strongly when he rejected his inheritance
to live a life dedicated to the Gospel.
At college in Vienna, Stanislaus roomed with
his older brother, who mercilessly abused him, trying to get
Stanislaus to accept his status. You have probably had disagreements
in your family, but have you ever had a relationship that
bordered on harassment? That's what this was.
Resolutely, Stanislaus dressed like a pilgrim
(instead of wearing the designer clothes of his day). Slipping
away from home, he walked 450 miles to Augsburg, Germany,
to join the Jesuits.
Stanislaus wanted to join the Society of Jesus
(the Jesuits) because he believed that they could reunite
the Church. He rented his room from a Lutheran, when the Reformation
made Lutherans unpopular with Catholics. The young man was
respectful toward his Lutheran landlord at a time when respect
between Protestants and Catholics was uncommon.
Stanislaus's generous spirit was so wonderful
that he was the first Jesuit to be made a saint. He tried
to focus on what God wanted no matter where that took him
and how unpopular that made him.
In 1568, the year Stanislaus Kostka died at
18, Aloysius Gonzaga was born. Like Stanislaus, Aloysius was
also from a wealthy family. He learned the art of warfare
and lived the life of a prince. His father wanted him to be
a powerful statesman and sent him to Florence, Italy, to learn
how to rule. Power and wealth were in his future, but he chose
Christ above all.
Aloysius became a Jesuit. During a plague in
Rome, he helped people who were left to die in the streets.
He could have been powerful and wealthy, but he chose to care
for the sick and dying, much the way Mother Teresa did in
Aloysius died of the plague himself. He became
one of the most popular saints in the Church, a young model
of Christlike heroism.
Age of Explorers
The impact of youth on the Church's pilgrim
journey was especially evident when Europe's powers were exploring
and colonizing other shores between 1500 and 1800. Teens can
smell hypocrisy a mile away, especially where adults are concerned!
Europe's explorers were not primarily concerned with the spread
of the Gospel in the conquered lands, as they often claimed,
but were bent on becoming rich.
Teenagers then as now were quick to catch on.
Many joined religious orders such as the Franciscans and the
Jesuits, who defended the natives in the New World and ministered
to peoples victimized by conquest. The martyrs of Brazil (1570)
are an unusual example of young men who made a stand for what
A Portuguese vessel with 40 missionaries was
headed for Brazil when pirates overtook it. Even though they
knew the dangers of pirate attack, these Jesuit missionaries
had courageously agreed to the trip. Ten young men between
the ages of 14 and 20 were martyred for their faith. The pirates
spared the ship's crew but brutally killed the missionaries
by throwing them into the Atlantic Ocean.
The one exception was John Sanchez, who was
pressed into service as the pirates' cook. He brought back
the tales of the great courage of these young martyrs.
The martyrs of Japan are another example of
teenagers spreading the Gospel. Only a generation after St.
Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan, a terrible persecution
broke out. The Japanese warlords made fun of Jesus by crucifying
In 1597, 24 Christians, among them several teenagers,
including St. John de Gato, were crucified. The site where
they died is still known as Martyrs Hill. The impact of their
courage and faithfulness was felt years later when, in 1853,
U.S. Admiral Matthew Perry discovered a small but vibrant
Catholic Church operating in hiding from the hostile government.
One of the most unusual teen Catholic heroes
of this era was Kateri Tekakwitha. Born in 1660, just west
of what is now Albany, New York, she began lessons in the
faith against the wishes of her tribe and of her father, a
Kateri was fortunate in that the French missionaries
from whom she accepted the Gospel, unlike most Europeans,
respected native peoples. Nevertheless, her own people persecuted
her for embracing Christianity. Kateri desired better relations
and understandings between Native Americans and the newly
A young woman barely 20, she refused to exchange
hate for hate. She became a sign of the presence of Jesus
among native peoples.
Our Modern Era
Teenagers continue to contribute to the life
of the Church in our time. One of the most popular saints
is Th—r—se of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower (1873-1897).
At the age of 14, Th—r—se had a spiritual experience
which led her to become a Carmelite. The Carmelites remain
within the walls of their monastery home, spending much of
their day in prayer.
Th—r—se was too young to enter, according to
Church law. But she was so sure that this was what God wanted
that she boldly asked the popein public! It worked.
Pope Leo XIII allowed her to become a Carmelite at 15.
Th—r—se performed her duties with extraordinary
dedication and dreamed of becoming a missionary, hoping to
go to Vietnam. Instead, she died of tuberculosis at 24.
Ever run into conflict with a teacher who gave
you an assignment that you really didn't like and didn't want
to do? Th—r—se was ordered to write her story by her superior,
and her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, became
an international best-seller. Because she cared about the
whole Church, even though she stayed in one place herself,
the pope made her the patroness for Catholic missions the
One of the best-known young saints of the 20th
century was Maria Goretti. She was born in Italy in 1890.
In 1902, when Maria was only 12, a friend of the family attempted
to rape her while her widowed mother was working. Maria believed
that no one had a right to abuse her or her body and she fought
off her assailant. He stabbed her and she died the next day.
Before her death, she forgave her attacker, which inspired
her family to do the same.
Maria has served as a model for the rights and
dignity of girls and as a symbol of the importance of protesting
against violence toward women. She also stands, with her family,
as a model of forgiveness and reconciliation. Her heroism
is rooted in her refusal to be abused or treated as an object.
Pope John Paul II called Maria a martyr of God's love.
What About You?
Some common themes run through all these stories.
These teens struggled to find their place in the world. They
experienced conflict with authority figures. They wanted desperately
to make a contribution through service to others and gave
of themselves with generosity and love. Not one of them had
an easy life nor were they perfect.
Imagine Mark acting out in inappropriate ways
with Paul and Barnabas, Joan's headstrong attitude agitating
French military officers and Th—r—se objecting to the writing
of her autobiography. These teenage models were totally human.
What makes them special to us is their love
of Jesus. Like Aloysius, Kateri and Lucy, you don't have to
have it all together to serve Christ and his Church. You just
have to be willing to put Jesus first.
How can you be the new teenage saint? You don't
have to rush off to the missions in a far-off land. Nor do
you have to liberate France or be thrown off a pirate ship.
Maria Goretti and Kateri Tekakwitha never left home. You don't
necessarily have to disagree with your family or butt up against
other authorities. Maybe you've heard the words to the simplest
song the Beatles ever wrote: "All You Need is Love." What's
that look like?
Be like Jesus wherever you are and whomever
you're with. Mend a quarrel, give undivided attention to a
friend who needs you, back up someone who's being reamed,
don't gossip, respect your parents and other authority figures
(although these saints were in conflict with authority at
times, they treated them with respect), stand up for a cause
even if it's unpopular and share your faith with others.
Above all else, do what Jesus would do. This
was the guiding principle of the incredible teens you encountered
in this Youth Update. This must be our guiding principle