“Am I loved?”
“Do I matter?”
“Am I enough?”
These are some of the most intimate questions on the hearts of today’s adolescents, and some of the questions to which Consecrated Woman of Regnum Christi, Emily Roman, in her role in youth ministry, tries to help her students find answers. “These deep questions come up in their lives in regard to their families, friends, and school community,” says Emily of the students she serves at Pinecrest Academy, a Regnum Christi school in Cumming, Georgia, of which she is part of the high school campus ministry team, “but whether or not they realize it, they also wonder about this in regard to God. Can God really love me? Do I really matter to him?”
Emily has been a part of the Pinecrest community for the last seven years, and while no two days are alike, she always starts the school day the same: in prayer. “I make sure to start every day with my hour of prayer and community Mass so that I can draw from those graces throughout the crazy day,” says Emily, who usually spends the rest of the day planning upcoming events, meeting individually with students, checking in on teachers, and attending school sporting events. In the fall, she also helps with the school’s drumline, which plays during Pinecrest’s football games. But Emily believes that her most important job in high school ministry is the role of accompaniment.
“Students often drop in to my office to grab a piece of candy or ask me to pray for a test they’re nervous about,” says Emily, who considers the act of simply being present in the halls between classes or at lunch as important, or more so, than any of the other responsibilities she has throughout the day. “There is a long list of tasks that make up the job description of the high school campus minister, but the most important part of my mission is to make sure each student feels known and loved, accepted and affirmed for who he or she is, so that they can ultimately understand that this is how God sees them.”
Fortunately for Emily, over the years that she has been at Pinecrest, she has been blessed to catch glimpses of how her role of accompaniment has impacted the students she serves:
“There was a time that I didn’t believe that God could want me,” one student wrote to Emily one week before graduation. “But the way you smiled at me made me believe that he does.”
Another student who used to eat lunch in Emily’s office, and would often pop in just to talk, reached out to her the summer after he graduated. “He sent me a message thanking me for always being there for him, ‘like a mother figure,’ even though he had never said that to me in person,” says Emily.
As well, many students that Emily has accompanied while they were at Pinecrest go on to become RC Missionaries after high school. “It’s such a blessing to see them grow while they’re under my care,” says Emily, “and continue to grow when they go and share the love of Christ by accompanying others during their missionary year.”
However, sometimes the fruits of this accompaniment are difficult to see; working with adolescents in a school environment can be challenging, and doesn’t always lend itself to receiving immediate positive feedback. But Emily doesn’t lose hope. “All of us who serve this age group have to lean pretty heavily from time to time on the conviction that we’re just sowing seeds that will break through the surface many years down the road,” says Emily, “It’s usually not until graduation or afterwards that a student will share what that relationship of accompaniment has meant for them.”
This need for the hopeful patience and compassion that is required when working with adolescents is one that Emily understands first-hand. “When I was growing up, my faith was important to me, but I was definitely an average teenager,” says Emily. “I had a personal relationship with Christ that was an anchor for me, but I still learned plenty of lessons the hard way.” It was Emily’s parents, who extended patience, discipline, and mercy towards her in her teenage years, which helped form the attitude of accompaniment with which she approaches the students she serves today. “I knew that, no matter how bad I messed up, my parents would always love me. I guess that has colored my work with adolescents the most,” says Emily. “That unconditional love is so key as young people explore the power of freedom.”
Now that Emily herself is in the role of ministering to adolescents through what can be a tumultuous life stage, she not only appreciates what her parents experienced as they accompanied her through her own teen years, but also feels she can better grasp, in some small way, the patient and persistent love of God. “This experience has helped me to understand a little better the heart of God, the heart of the Father who loves us so infinitely, and wants nothing more than for us to be happy with him,” says Emily. “Just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem because ‘they did not recognize the moment of their visitation’, I have also shed tears watching souls choose to walk away from him, and hoping that some day, they’ll realize what they’re missing.”
But for Emily, any challenges of working with adolescents are far outweighed by tremendous joy. “The joy that comes from seeing young people experience that love, and choosing to live their lives according to it, is something I never imagined could be so powerful,” says Emily. “It’s so powerful when a student asks, ‘How do I hear God?’ or ‘How do I know where God is leading me?’ It sparks such a rich conversation, and I love being able to give them tools to grow in their faith and prayer lives.”
And Emily’s role of accompaniment doesn’t stop with the students; every one of her interactions at the school, whether it’s with students, faculty, staff, or parents, is aimed towards the same end – to let them know that they are seen, known, and loved by God. “I’d have to say, above everything else, my greatest joy is accompanying teachers and students one-on-one, helping them discover who they are in God’s eyes, and what they’re capable of doing.”