Outside, buses continuously arrive disgorging their boisterous teenage passengers into the courtyard. This mass of adolescent humanity steal clandestine measures of each other as they move into the hall and jockey for front row seats. The noise level is close to ear-splitting. Roger and I sit in the audience stunned by the scene unfolding around us.
NET Team Band members (l. to r.) Emily, Laura, Becca and Mario
are cheered on by Mickenzie.
A music concert about to begin you may think?
“We are chaperoning this group for the weekend?” Roger asks incredulously. All I can muster is a catatonic nod.
NET Team MCs Mike and Sara.
No, this is not a rock concert but a retreat for Catholic teenagers from around the United ArabEmirates (UAE). We are at St. Anthony of Padua church in Ras Al Khaimah, chaperoning a youth retreat organized by the Vicariate of Southern Arabia (comprised of the UAE, Yemen and Oman). The theme of the retreat is TUFF – Teens United For Faith.
Teenagers arriving at St. Anthony of Padua.
When one thinks of the UAE, an Arab country in the Middle East, one thinks of Muslims and the Islamic faith. But with the UAE’s immense expatriate population, the RomanCatholic Church has a huge congregation of devout worshipers. Thanks to the benevolence and spirit of tolerance embraced by the rulers of the UAE, Christians are permitted to hold services in their churches and minister to their members.
NET Ireland Traveling Team - front l. to r. Kat, Sasha, Emily, Bev. Laura
- back l. to r. Mario, Mikenzie, Levi, Michael, Justin.
This high-energy retreat is led by the National Evangelization Team (NET) Ireland, a group of 10 enthusiastic young adults trained to bring the message of Christ’s love to Catholic youth. The Team is in the UAE for two weeks conducting youth rallies and “Encounter Hours” in six of the seven parishes. They also train 65 young adults (ages 18-30) from across the UAE in a new approach to youth ministry – peer to peer vs. teacher to student.
Bev gives testimony to the difference
Jesus' love made in her life.
You may ask how does a group of young Catholic missionaries find their way to the Muslim country of UAE?
NET Team members with (left 2nd row) Mariya Flynn
and (front row) her brother Joseph and sister Elizabeth.
Bishop Hinder with NET Team and retreat attendees.
“I have bestowed the sacrament of Confirmation on most of you in this room. This means you are now with the Lord. What are you going to do with this gift?”
|Bishop Hinder's pink zuchetto beams like a beacon among the dark-haired teens.|
“When I sit in the front I always feel segregated. The whole crowd is at my back. By sitting in the audience I get to experience a little bit of how it is with them. By being closer to them, I invite them to approach me without fear.” explains the Bishop.
NET Team‘s drama performance
l. to r. Laura, Justin, Sasha, Levi and Mario.
Bishop Hinder celebrated the Mass for the teens
at the end of the retreat.
|Thomas and Kevin |
from St. Michael's in Sharjah.
Panel l. to r. Monsignor Francis, Thurshara Zacharias,
Sister Elizabeth Fernandez, Bishop Hinder, Ariel and Christina Arabug
and NET Team members Mickenzie and Levi.
The panel challenges the audience to submit any questions they want. The teens rise the occasion and approach the stage placing their written questions in the “question” box.
|NET Team member Justin (center back row) withsome of the boys at the TUFF retreat.|
Retreat attendees at prayer.
And what did NET Team think of the UAE experience?
|NET Team member Levi with retreat participants.|
Postscript . . . .
|NET Ireland Traveling Team members visit theSheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.|
In a year’s time they reach over 10,000 youth. During 2013-14, NET Ireland is operating three NET Teams in Ireland and two in Scotland. One of the Irish teams is a traveling team which came to the UAE.
NET Ireland has sister organizations in NET USA, NETCanada, NET Australia, and NET Uganda.