Greek Catholic youth leaders receive training in the homeland of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj
They often choose historic or sacred places of our homeland for that purpose. The native village of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) from 1944 to 1984, Zazdrist of the Ternopil Region, is such a place. From 3 to 28 August 2006, training and retreats were organized there for young people.
The Committee on Matters of Youth of the Ternopil-Zboriv Eparchy of the UGCC, which organized the training, involved young people from 14 to 25 years old in this spiritual event and held it according to a clearly formulated plan covering respective topical subjects.
The priests of the eparchy delegated active leaders of communities to receive professional training to be able to lead church youth groups in the future. The experience of organizing such training for five years shows that the acquired knowledge helps to increase the quality of work both in communities and in the personal life of the leaders.
First of all, the young Christians underwent a four-day course of practical lectures. Their knowledge of secular subjects was harmoniously combined with spiritual knowledge. Psychological exercises and prayer vigils were also interesting for them.
Some participants called the days of training in Zazdrist “days of purification.” For they were able to test in practice the lectures heard and to make conclusions for the improvement of their ministry, both in communities and outside them, in the family, at work, and so on.
Management methods and group work methods were taught by experienced leaders
In the beginning, the training focused on many questions concerning leadership, especially, Christian leadership, for it differs in many aspects from leadership in various social groups. The participants enlarged their knowledge about group communication, delegation, leading a group, and so on. The organizers did not limit instruction only to listening to materials, but organized a kind of a game: “Complicated situations and making simple decisions.” The participants modeled artificial and natural situations, which stimulated them to make decisions. Many of them understood during the game that even the most complicated life situations can be settled.
The training session “Life and work in a group” drew the attention of the young Christian leaders of the Ternopil Region to specificities of human life in a group. The session dealt with family, the circle of friends, church and society. For the leaders can face complicated situations in communication with their relatives. Sometimes mistakes which they had made wittingly or unwittingly were revealed to them. Sometimes, a smile appeared on their faces when they heard confirmation of the validity of their success in church groups. The main specificity of this training was that it showed the necessity of participation in Christian youth communities. Various role plays and training intended to unite the participants in one collective were also conducive to that.
The training session “Communication” was initially intended for leaders, but practical experience showed that it is of interest also to ordinary members of youth communities, who sometimes face a lack of understanding with themselves and others. Abilities of communication at “I and I,” “I and you,” I and group,” and “I and God” levels were practiced by the participants.
The organizers of the camp in Zazdrist were not certified trainers, but former participants. The team’s motto “get and share with others” helped the leaders to share their knowledge and experience with their peers. Thanks to that, the lectures were turned into meetings of young people. Simple language, examples (often from personal life), sincerity and humbleness made the reception and digestion of the new material by the participants of the training in Zazdrist easier.
In the past, all lectures were given by Fr. Vitalii Tarasenko, a representative of the Ternopil-Zboriv Eparchy of the UGCC responsible for training and retreats. But with each year, young people increasingly take over the responsibilities of conducting the training. The team of Christian leaders was formed of Taras Tsvihun, Halyna Sukhanni, Kateryna Lakomska, Ksenia Teodoziv, Ihor Makhnitskyi, and others. In their plans, they did not content themselves with preparation of the subjects in question, but intend to develop methodical materials, aspire to establish an Internet resource center, and conduct training in districts and villages of the Ternopil Region.
Experience and anonymous testimonies of participants of the training
The participants and organizers testified that during the training in Zazdrist they acquired special experience. It is explained simply by the presence here of the spirit of Patriarch Josyf Slipyj. His motto “through thorns, to the stars” was used practically in the training, when “stars” of wisdom and success appeared amid thorns of difficulties.
According to the former participants, after the training, changes took place in their relations with friends, parents, and their surroundings. The participants of the retreat camp understood themselves better. Their prayer life also improved, for prayer is real communication with God. At the end of the training, potential youth leaders had to fill in anonymous forms, which were carefully examined by the organizers of the training in Zazdrist. Some excerpts from the forms deserve special attention:
“I will remember these four days for a long time. I understood what a group, team, and conflict are. I simply understood what a true leader should be like…”
“First of all, I realized at the meetings that support of people is very important. I felt happy in the group… During those days, a special indescribable bond developed between us. We cared not only about ourselves, but also about others. I felt there were people in the training who would not laugh at me. They would support you even if you say something wrong. Thus, I was able to open up exactly here…”
“I could not believe that my peers can present material so professionally. Of course, they are not ‘aces.’ But it was so simple and interesting… I came to the conclusion that any person can become a leader, if that person really wants to…”
“My memory will retain vigils…candles, icons, silence… It was a time for me. I live in the city, and noise distracts my attention. And here, I found silence…”
“I learned to be a full-fledged part of a group… It was not easy to overcome my selfishness and think about the common good.”
“We played an interesting game containing complicated situations…I never thought that one can always find a simple solution… but, to be frank, in the beginning, it was rather difficult and unusual. I decided to go home after the first day. Then, I took the risk of staying for another day. So, I stayed to the end. Everything was wonderful. I only wish the training had lasted a little longer…”
Thoughts post factum
The training is aimed at fostering not only good leaders for church communities, but also future leaders for the whole Ukrainian society. We want to rescue Ukraine from moral and spiritual decline, but we mean modern Ukraine. But who will think about the “Ukraine of the future?” I think we should remember an old saying: “It is better to prevent a disease.”
We often complain about the leadership of our country. Then the question emerges: What have we done to have good leadership? Did we foster good leaders? A partial response can be given by the experience of the Christian youth camp in Zazdrist, where the first steps are being made at the regional church level to form a new type of a leader with a Christian mentality.
Prepared by Ihor SKLENAR on the basis of materials of Fr. Vitalii Tarasenko and other participants of the camp.
Posted on RISU’s Ukrainian-language site on 11 September 2006.