Madeline Dorobiala's gift of mercy is on the rise. The teen from St. Christopher Parish, Tonawanda, has found that she has a capacity for bringing compassion to others.
This bit of information became apparent to her while taking part in On the Road, a program designed to equip teens with the tools to enthusiastically share their gifts and stories of faith with their family, friends and all those they encounter. Dorobiala joined a dozen other teens as they learned from mentors and each other what it means to be a missionary disciple.
The weeklong program, held at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora July 28 to Aug. 3, and hosted by the diocesan Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry, included a series of large group sessions and small group peer talks to deepen the teens understanding of faith and theology. Participants learned how to write and deliver a witness talk, and how to pray with and for others.
"The participants are really sharing their stories of faith, their stories of encountering Jesus with others. As Catholics, we're called to do this all the time every day, but it's not always easy to lean into that light, and we don't always know where to start or where to grow in that path," explained Kaitlin Garrity, adolescent catechesis specialist, for the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and co-director of On the Road.
This is Dorobiala's second time coming to the two-year-old program.
"I came my first year and really had a great experience in how to become a disciple and I really enjoyed it, so I decided to come back for a second year," she said. "Being at On the Road for the first year gave me confidence in spreading God's word and how to write a witness talk, which is something I probably wouldn't be able to do if I didn't come to On the Road."
She wrote a witness talk to welcome eighth-graders to her youth group at St. Christopher's. She feels the program gave her confidence in her writing and speaking skills.
"This year they had me write a separate witness talk, and I felt that I could write the second witness talk a lot better because I had experience on how to write one from my first year," she explained.
All participants examine their spiritual gifts through a survey of over 100 questions that rates about 30 different gifts such as intercession, mission work, communication, faith and trust. Dorobiala noticed during her second year that her gifts increased, especially the gift of mercy.
"When I came out of On the Road, it felt different. I think my family recognized the difference. I was more happy. After time, I think mercy, as my spiritual gift, showed," she said, adding that she helps out at her parish as an altar server and delivers Communion to the homebound with her mother.
Fidele Amuli said that the program, along with CLI, helped rebuild him. He describes himself as an anxious guy who wouldn't speak for fear of saying the wrong thing. CLI taught him the communication skills to be a leader. He has gone on to be a small group facilitator at last spring's youth convention, and now serves on the diocesan Youth Board.
"It's taught me to look really deep into myself," he said. "It's like reverse engineering. They kind of break me apart and put me back together, but instead of being the same, it's like I'm a better me. It's helped me find my true self."
He now considers speaking to be one of his gifts. He calls it a superpower. A refugee from Kenya, he experienced a rough life before coming to the United States six years ago. He uses his background to relate to others and create a common bond with people experiencing hard times.
"My childhood was really painful, and because of that I am able to listen to people and understand any problem, any situation they're in and give some feedback on that. This program has helped me increase that," he said.
At the end of each evening a theologian from the seminary offers answers to questions from the teens about nearly everything in the Bible.
Now that these teens are on the road to discipleship, what paths do they plan to forge for themselves?
"I plan to learn more about the Bible," said Chandler Cotter from St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lancaster. "I was discovering as the professor was talking about things that I really don't know that much of the specifics of the Bible stories. My plan is to learn more, and different ways of prayer."
Stephanie Syl-Akinwale, from St. Joseph University Parish in Buffalo, found herself going to church and praying more as a routine than as a form of communication with God. That changed by the end of the week.
"I feel like now I actually have ways to pray that I'd feel, not just saying or reciting things," she said. "I'd enjoy it and know that I am speaking to God."