FALL RIVER, Mass. — Father Thomas Washburn, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor of Good Shepherd and St. Stanislaus parishes, which make up the Catholic Community of Central Fall River, sees a hunger out there. And it isn’t because of Lenten fasting. “My experience is that our youth are hungry for real encounters with the Lord that can only be found in the Sacraments,” he told The Anchor. “I think they are increasingly aware of the shallowness of what the world has to offer, and even if they can’t always put language to it, they know that there is something unique and special to be found in Reconciliation and the Eucharist.”

It’s no coincidence that more and more young people are becoming active members of the CCCFR. Youth have access to Teen Leadership meetings, Life Nights and Teen Bible Study as members of the collaborative. And it’s not ending there.

Leanne Nelson, director of Faith Formation at the three parishes felt the need to host a Lenten Mission specifically for youth. “As we were preparing the various Spiritual and catechetical activities for Lent, Leanne wanted to do something specifically for the youth and young adults of our collaborative parishes,” Father Washburn said.

The Fall River parish collaborative is hosting the first-ever Lenten Mission for Youth at Good Shepherd Church, 1598 South Main Street. “The Mission will take place from 5-8 p.m. on Monday, March 16,” said Father Washburn. “We will begin with the opportunity for our young people to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is one of the most important experiences during Lent. God desires to shower mercy upon us all, and we want our young people to experience the freedom that is found when we receive that mercy. We will then have a celebration of the Holy Mass at 6 p.m. at which Father Matthew Gill will be the primary celebrant and homilist. He will offer a Lenten message targeted primarily at our youth. And the evening will conclude with an opportunity for fellowship in the Good Shepherd parish hall.”

Father Matt Gill, temporary administrator of Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville, Our Lady of Victory in Centerville, and Our Lady of Hope Chapel in West Barnstable, will be the guest homilist. “In our youth events, it is always powerful when our youth hear powerful messages of faith from people closer to their age,” Father Washburn told The Anchor. “Father Matt is among the youngest priests in our diocese, and a wonderful preacher who speaks effectively to young people.”

As with other youth-oriented events in the three-parish collaborative, the Lenten Mission is receiving a healthy response from area youth. “We are hoping for a good response, Father Washburn said. “The initial contacts that we have received suggest it will be.

“Since we began publicizing the event, it has taken on a life of its own and we now have received interest from other parishes, as well as Catholic high schools in the area. We’re hoping it will be a well-attended event and a deeply Spiritual moment for our youth on their Lenten journey.

 “We do hope that this will be the first of an annual event, and it has already grown outside of the parishes of our collaborative.”

In the 18 months of its existence, the fledgling Catholic Community of Central Fall River has experienced many successes early in its journey, and a great deal of those successes have been the focus of bringing youth into the mix.

“The idea of a collaborative is a pastoral plan that does not simply seek to circle the wagons and surrender to an inevitable process of decline,” Father Washburn told The Anchor. “Instead, by gathering together the people and the resources of our parishes it gives us the opportunity to focus on evangelization with the hope of renewal and growth. 

“We’re only a year-and-half into our process of creating this collaborative, but our early evidence is hopeful. In our first year, our Mass attendance has grown by 10 percent. That alone is astounding. Through our efforts at evangelizing, we will have 37 candidates at our Easter Vigil being received into the Church and/or completing their Sacraments of Initiation. That is up from just three people last year. These are all initial signs that tell us we are on the right track. And, another key component of this new evangelization is a focus on the evangelizing of our young people and their parents. 

“All of our staff is guided by two principles — every encounter that we have from the most formal to the most casual must be both pastoral and evangelizing. Our whole community catechesis program, our bereavement ministry, the work that we’re doing with families bringing their children for Baptism, our youth ministry program and Sunday night Youth Mass — these are all examples of how these two areas of focus — being pastoral and evangelizing — are having a good effect. We are thrilled with the attendance in all of our youth programs and they continue to increase.”