Young Catholics prepare to defend the faith in the public square
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)-Three young Catholic women from Ottawa are among a group of young people 35 and under who are preparing to defend the faith, the Church and the Pope in the public square.
Danielle Breffitt, a Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) missionary in
communications; Katherine Church, a physiotherapist, and Sarah Du Broy a
communications officer for the Ottawa archdiocese participated in the first
of five training sessions offered by the Salt and Light Media Foundation.
They joined about 20 participants from Ontario and the Salt and Light TV
staff for sessions led by Salt and Light's CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, who
was CEO of the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto, is consultor on the
Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications, English-language
assistant to the Holy See Press Office, and a member of the Social
Communications Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Everyone in there was really solid," said Breffitt.
"It was very life-giving to be in that setting," said Church of the training
at Salt and Light.
"It has become more and more obvious to us at Salt and Light that there is a
very distinct need for articulate persons to explain the significance of the
massive Papal transition we experienced last year and what Pope Francis is
writing, saying and doing," said Rosica.
The training sessions originated in a proposal made in 2013 to the Assembly
of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) and later to the Canadian Conference
of Catholic Bishops (CCCB). Rosica said the Ontario bishops were invited to
recommend four or five young adults from their respective dioceses to
participate in the meeting. The first training session in April attracted
about 20 young people from seven Ontario dioceses and two ecclesial
The first session in early April, took place before the canonizations of
Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, which was highlighted as the type of
event young people could prepare themselves to speak about for the media.
Rosica stressed the importance of the young people's being "proactive, and
not in a constant reactive mode to various challenges and ecclesial crises."
The group-in-training has been called "Catholic Perspectives" to maintain a
"unique Canadian identity," Rosica said. He noted the success of similar
groups such as Catholic Voices UK and Catholic Comment Ireland that prepared
young, lay Catholics to comment to the media in advance of Pope Benedict's
2010 visit to the UK and the 2012 International Eucharistic Congress in
Dublin. Rosica said he met with the leaders of both groups. "One of the
key things I learned was the group must be fundamentally led by lay people."
Rosica said the young people must subscribe to Catholic teaching and "want
to share the Catholic worldview in an open, confident, friendly and
Du Broy said if media contact a diocese they might prefer to talk to
ordinary Catholics who are well-informed rather than a bishop or a priest.
Though they would not claim to represent the diocese officially, Du Broy
outlined a number of discussion areas the young people hope to be able to
speak about if asked: same-sex marriage and how young adults interpret or
misinterpret it; Pope Francis' words, homilies and gestures; the meaning of
mercy; the case for marriage; how young adults respond to Church scandals;
the Theology of the Body; big events such as World Youth Days and how to
reach out to young adults not part of it; the role of women in the Church;
understanding various rites and sacraments; the role of clergy and
religious; and why they choose to follow the teachings of the Church.
Church said their being young adults might make listeners and viewers "more
forgiving if we put our foot in our mouths."
But opportunities to evangelize do not just come through the media, Church
said. Any time there is a possibility to evangelize at work, among
friends, "you have to think before you answer," she said, noting how Pope
Francis makes his message "stick" by being simple and clear.
"The Church believes what might not be popular," said Breffitt. But the
Holy Spirit is "behind us" when we express our faith. "We don't have to be
"We always need to pray when we are asked questions," said Du Broy. "We have
to pray before we answer."
"It's about witnessing, not winning an argument," said Breffitt.
Breffitt said they know on many of the topics they would have to seek advice
and do some brushing up before appearing on the media so they "don't say
something not correct."
They said they appreciated the fact Rosica and the Salt and Light team have
made themselves available as resources.
"We always have more to learn," said Church.
The training gave them practical tips on how to approach being interviewed,
punctuated with examples from Rosica's experience fielding interviews on the
resignation of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis.
"We need to ask a lot of questions before saying, 'Yes,'" said Church. Those
questions could include who is doing the interview; will other people be
present in the room; what angle is the journalist pursuing.
Take time to pray and seek support and resources before agreeing, she said.
Preparing ahead with some key phrases that distill your message helps, said
Breffitt grew up in Ottawa, went to church as a child, but stopped when in
middle school. In Grade 10 or 11 she was invited to a Catholic youth group.
It was there she had the opportunity to experience God's love for her. "I
made a personal decision to follow the Lord at 16," she said. She served
for two years as a missionary for NET Ministries, and then joined CCO where
she has entered her third year.
"I've been seeing peoples' lives change," Breffitt said. "That definitely
helps me in my faith. Faith isn't lived unless it's shared."
Though about two thirds of young adults leave the Catholic Church at or
after university, Breffitt credits having a strong Catholic community for
cementing her faith and challenging her to be "a missionary disciple."
Church, a cradle Catholic, was 16 years old when the principal of her school
asked her to help out when the World Youth Day Cross came to Ottawa. She
didn't realize she would have to play the part of Mother Elizabeth Bruyère,
wearing a costume and delivering some lines in front of 18,000 people at the
Canadian Tire Centre. The WYD cross was on centre ice on a revolving
platform. The only way she could deliver her monologue was to cling to the
cross so she would not fall off, she said.
She felt extremely shaky, but this event cured her of any fear of speaking
in public, she said. When she went to WYD later in Toronto, she was
standing with her mother as the WYD Cross went by. "Hey, that's your
cross," her mother said. She remembers thinking, "That's the cross that
saved me," but realizing "it was so much more."
Going to Toronto again for the media training moved her so much and "set her
on fire," so she traveled to Rome to attend the canonizations of John Paul
II and John XXIII. "It was like being at World Youth Day all over again,"
she said, especially to mark the canonization of Saint John Paul "who
changed my life and made [faith] so vibrant for young people.
Du Broy experienced a deep conversion at the age of eight when her parents
took her to a charismatic prayer meeting. Her mother noticed how she was
responding and told her to close her eyes and ask God to come into her
heart. She felt God's presence very powerfully and kept going to Mass and
staying involved in the Church, going on to get a degree in journalism at
the University of Ottawa. "I always knew I would work for the Church in
media," she said.
"God wants what's best for us," Du Broy said. "His teachings are for our