In a society where images and messages of sexuality are all around, the concept of chastity may be a difficult one to live out and share. However, a group of missionaries new to the archdiocese believes respect for human life and dignity begins with the message of chastity and they are seeking to spread that message to young people in New York.
Four full-time chastity speakers will be delivering talks to schools, parish groups and religious education programs throughout the archdiocese over the next year. The group, called Generation Life NY, is collaborating with the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office and Generation Life, a Philadelphia-based missionary group. The speakers are young and vibrant, and also serve as models of the choice of chastity.
“Young people are searching for this message. They are searching for something different than what the culture is giving them,” said Kimberly Burdette, chastity education coordinator for the Family Life/Respect Life Office.
In their talks—some 80 groups have already booked the missionaries—topics include human dignity and pro-life, myths of contraception, vocations and how to combat media messages. The talks generally take place over a number of days. “One of the strengths of having the speakers for multiple days is that young people can hear the message, digest it, and have it introduced in different ways,” Ms. Burdette said.
The hope is that once the ideas of chastity have been solidified, the students will spread that message in their own schools and communities, she added.
A group of missionaries from Philadelphia’s Generation Life team have been working with the New York team for training. Megan Mastroianni, an engaging presenter who has worked with Generation Life for three years, told CNY that training began in June with a month-long retreat to get speakers acclimated to the mission. “For Generation Life to be branching out into one of the biggest cities in the world is essential,” she said, adding, “You have to have a backbone and total passion to do this work.”
Before a talk at St. Barnabas High School in the Bronx Sept. 26, Ms. Mastroianni and other members of the Philadelphia team prepped their New York counterparts. During the first session, the team spoke with sophomores and freshmen in the school chapel about human dignity and being pro life.
St. Barnabas freshman Noreen Charles said the talk “really showed how life is such a gift,” and said the talk further helped her pro-life beliefs. She was proud to mention that she is planning to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., in January with her classmates.
Another freshman, Ashley Huntt, added that the talk “made me want to go out there and tell other young people.”
Stephanie Brown, 22, from Houston, Texas, is one of the New York team members. She heard of Generation Life while attending Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “I used to be a teen who was engrossed with the culture of death,” she told CNY. “This culture promised me this wonderful, happy life, but it just turned me into a hollow shell. I was just worried about the exterior and not worried about the interior.”
She added that hearing the message of human dignity and chastity made her realize “we were created for so much more.” That message is one that she hopes to express to other young people. “There is definitely a need here,” she said. “When you think about our culture and the media, you think of New York and Los Angeles. It’s so clear how much influence the media and this message of sexual abuse is manifested within the city.”
She said she hopes that young people learn that although chastity may not be “the popular way of life doesn’t mean it’s not the right way of life.”
“I really want them to live life in the truest sense and want them to get a true sense of self,” she said.
Mike Lahey, a 31-year-old parishioner of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan, is also on the New York team. He said he wanted to get involved in this ministry to share with young people “how to live their sexuality in a pure and holy way.”
He said, “It’s easy to lose your way in New York. You can be surrounded by eight million people and be totally alone. In our search for what we are supposed to be doing with our life, we can try out all these different things that may wind up hurting us or taking us off the path that will fulfill us the most.”
He told CNY that he was full of excitement and hope for the next year’s work, and noted the importance of having both men and women speakers to deliver the message, saying, “You need the chastity perspective from the male’s side and from the female’s side.”
The other male on the New York team is native New Yorker Emmanuel Pena.
DeVon Dunlap, a 22-year-old from Ohio, said, “If you want to promote a culture of life, it has to be connected with chastity.” The talks, she said, are based on the ideas promoted by Pope John Paul II in his “Theology of the Body.”
“We are created for more than what our culture is feeding us,” she said. “It’s really beautiful that the Church teaches us about the beauty of our sexuality.”
She said Catholic teachings about sex and sexuality are easily misconstrued.
“It’s saying sex deserves to be sacred,” she said. “It belongs in the union between man and woman in marriage. That’s where it’s safeguarded and protected.”
Although the message of chastity may be one that many people are not familiar with, she said she has “so much hope in our generation.” Once the message is presented and received, “takes off and changes the world.”
Information or to schedule a talk: Kim Burdette, (646) 794-3198 or email@example.com.