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Special section: Family Life

Upswing in youth ministry texts includes both oddities and pearls

NCR Staff

WASHINGTON -- John Roberto is encouraged. “In terms of both youth and family ministry, while the change is not dramatic, it’s there. There’s momentum and a much clearer sense of vision and philosophy about ministry to families and clearer direction about what parishes need to be doing.”

Roberto is worth listening to. He’s been around a while. He grew up in youth ministry and retreat work, is a former diocesan youth director in Bridgeport, Conn., and Richmond, Va., who in 1978 founded his own Center for Youth Ministry Development to “do things you couldn’t do in a diocesan office -- development, research, creating training programs.” Later, as he broadened out across parish activities, he dropped the word youth from CMD’s title.

In some parishes, Roberto’s manuals are the ministry Bibles. “Parishes don’t have the stamina to do more,” said Roberto, “so today’s programs give them a way to enrich what they’re already doing.” And there are a lot more programs today than there ever have been, including the center’s.

In two decades the center has trained 7,500 youth ministers, seen more than 300 people through a postgraduate level Certificate of Advanced Studies in Ministry program, developed justice ministries such as Young Neighbors in Action and published a score of resources.

Family-focused books from Catholic publishers generally are on the upswing. NCR asked around and came up with a selection that included some pearls and some oddities.

Surely the oddest is the 1,000-page, Serving the Human Family: the Holy See at the Major United Nations Conferences, published by the Path to Peace Foundation and Our Sunday Visitor, $39.95. It looks like one of those books published to impress or please someone in high office and, given the contents, is about as exciting as the legal notices at the back of a rural weekly newspaper. Useful to a narrow cadre of scholars, no doubt. I couldn’t find it in the OSV catalog.

OSV highlighted front and center Father McBride’s Family Catechism. McBride’s adaptation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church has his customary light touch and chatty narrative style. Given its segments for reflection, it’s probably aimed as much at religious education classes and parish groups as at families.

At $9.95 and 228 pages, Alba House is distributing Family Values from the Australian Society of St. Paul priests and brothers. If you don’t mind reading Mum for Mom, Family Values seemed the best among the books received in terms of helping families raise kids. Written by Margaret and Gerard O’Donnell, who have four children ages 23 to 3, there is a beguiling sensitivity in Family Values. Its easy style and layout looks at promptness, prayers, obedience, generosity and industriousness. Old- fashioned family and civic virtues seen through the Christian prism, and Christian virtues placed in today’s household. Nicely done. Of course, American parents can chuckle over these Aussie children setting the table at tea time. Other than that, it makes the ocean crossing easily enough. At $6.95, it’s a bargain for any family.

OSV’s catalog had a stack of parenting and teen books, but they didn’t send any. The catalog opens with a colorful offering: Welcoming the Little Ones, about establishing a faith-filled nursery for children 12 to 36 months ($19.95, 132 pages), struck me as just the thing for home or church group moms wondering where to begin.

Alba offers another St. Paul’s product: Family Life in Christ by Brian Grenier, a Christian Brother, ($4.95, 112 pages). Topics include Joy in Family Life, Gentleness in Family Life and the like. It seemed fine, and I’m sure there are dozens of variations on this theme available.

One, undoubtedly, is Ave Maria Press’ Let’s Say Grace: Mealtime Prayers for Family Occasions throughout the Year by Robert M. Hamma ($7.95, 118 pages). Graces for days when cousins or friends visit. All very thoughtful. It’s a pity the Presidents’ Day grace wasn’t used to make a stronger point. It mentions that Lincoln freed the slaves but doesn’t mention that Washington owned them. With prayers referring to saints as different as Elizabeth Ann Seton and Dorothy Day, it’s a handy- to-have-in-the-buffet book.

Somewhat more serious and learned is Celebrating at Home: Prayers and Liturgies for Families, by Deborah Alberswerth and Laura Loving from United Church Press, ($15.95, 132 pages). It is designed for intergenerational worship at home on days as distinct in meaning as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Valentine’s Day.

I already had a Tabor booklet on “How to Start Elizabeth Ministry in Your Parish.” It describes the ministry as “an outreach by the parish community to women during the joys and sorrows of the childbearing years.” A great ministry. But it undoes itself with its tacky add-ons. Like the aftermath of a Disney movie, Elizabeth Ministry comes trailing T- shirts, mugs, keepsakes and totes.

Between Fathers and Sons, by Jesuit Fr. Michael Smith, gets down to serious family business, ($16.95 and 114 pages). It’s a “process” -- small group focused. I received only the introduction. Seems sound and commonsensical.

The award for the best title has to go to Alba House’s God Could Be a Teen, No One Understands Him Either. I didn’t see this James Pernice product ($4.95, 113 pages), but I’m wearing a smile as I type.

National Catholic Reporter, September 4, 1998