Grounding teenagers in the teachings of the Catholic Church and shaping them as leaders while living in a sexualized culture is the goal of a new three-year program.
Catholic Academy for Life Leadership (CALL) recently graduated 70 teens from its high school program.
Available to any teen attending a public or Catholic high school, CALL complements parish youth programs by providing formation in pro-life and chaste living topics such as Theology of the Body, human sexuality and bioethics, in addition to leadership and service opportunities.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted addressed the first diocesan graduates April 6, and encouraged the teens to embrace their role as “lambs in the midst of wolves,” by following Jesus and recognizing the “voices of the wolves” in popular culture.
“Many of our contemporaries don’t know that what is popular may be harmful, that what’s called exciting news may actually be bad news,” Bishop Olmsted said. “But, because of CALL, you know good from bad, vice from virtue, truth from what is false.”
Founded five years ago by Cindy Leonard, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Natural Family Planning, and LeeAnne Abel, volunteer co-coordinator of CALL, the program was the result of their wish list: Everything teens should know before college.
The three-year pilot program helped formulate the topics for each year, which received a Nihil Obstat from Fr. Eugene Florea and the Imprimatur from Bishop Olmsted for Years 1 and 2.
National and local speakers don’t shy away from tough topics like same sex marriage, abortion, cloning, euthanasia, stem cell research and pornography.
CALL gives teens a consistent message of the Catholic faith as it teaches about life, love and the value and dignity of each person.
Leonard said teens are given a Catholic worldview to equip them through their college years, and into their future vocations, with an active faith based on the knowledge they are made to love and be loved in the image and likeness of God.
“Since the surrounding culture is at direct odds with Catholic teachings on many levels, many parents may want some additional assistance in helping their teens to form their worldviews in the light of the sacred heritage of Christian truth,” she said. “In CALL, we present many topics that adults even wonder about and so parents and teens can be formed together in these seminars. Parents are always welcome to stay and we consistently have parents do so.”
Currently, there are 250 teens enrolled in the program, which has two Valley locations and one in Cottonwood.
Teens meet four times a year, attend retreats and complete 15 hours of community service. The program is flexible in that if a course is missed, there are opportunities for make-ups.
Graduates are presented a certificate of leadership and offered the opportunity to train as mentors.
Nick Sloan, a CALL graduate, is a senior at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale and volunteers in ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church.
He confessed it was his mother that “volunteered me for this,” but he has come to appreciate and value the information.
“It’s a really good program because it answers real life questions; questions asked by my peers like why don’t we agree about sex before marriage,” Sloan said. “CALL gives you the knowledge and skills to not only answer these questions for yourself, but for other people.”
Sloan, who plans to attend Arizona State University in the fall and major in biology, said he was “fortunate to have a mom who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and drag me to this.”
“I learned something when I went there and I enjoyed it,” he said. “I know I’ll be applying my knowledge in different situations.”
Leonard said it’s all about helping teens understand the “culture of death” that society seems to have easily embraced and promotes.
“We hope they will successfully navigate the ‘cultural stew’ in which we all live and be able to speak the truth from both the head and the heart to their peers in college and in their future places of work,” she said.
In closing, Bishop Olmsted told the teens CALL has “set them apart” to go into the world as missionaries loving their enemies.
“You have been prepared to defend the beauty of chastity, to stand up for the dignity of human life, to present in a persuasive way God’s plan for marriage, and to bear witness to Jesus. Always do so with a joyful heart,” he said.