The conclusion of each District’s Lasallian Youth gatherings in 2019 brought a familiar, cyclical ending to the summer. After spending an immersive and physically exhausting week together and forging bonds with each other, the young people offered emotional goodbyes. As in previous years, these students, formed to be leaders actively and passionately animating the mission with a spirit of faith and zeal, returned to their schools to share the Lasallian core values with their peers and looked forward to the routine of another school year.
Little did anyone know at the time how long these goodbyes would last as this would be the last fully in-person District summer formation program for high school students to date. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of all in-person activities during the summer of 2020. Undeterred by the pandemic, mindful of the opportunity at hand, and hopeful for potential possibilities, the directors of Young Lasallians for the Districts of San Francisco New Orleans (SFNO), Eastern North America (DENA) and Midwest refused to lose another summer to the pandemic.
Kenenna Amuzie (SFNO), Justin Martineau (DENA) and Abby Michels (Midwest) began preparations in early spring for a radically different experience to meet these unprecedented times: a virtual, Regional gathering of Lasallian Youth. As the planning committee explored possible themes, one common thread emerged: providing a guide or a map to move forward.
Ultimately, over 125 Lasallians from around the world gathered for a full day together, growing in spirituality and Lasallian association. Pooling resources and networks opened possibilities that had previously only been a dream. The day began with a welcome message from Keane Palatino, international coordinator of Young Lasallians. After introductions and icebreakers, students were placed into small groups to share goals for the day and for the year ahead.
Over the course of the next several hours, students and moderators, representing 16 schools from SFNO, Midwest and DENA, attended three breakout sessions on various topics. This format allowed the student attendees to engage with topics ranging from mental health to police brutality to advocacy and organizing. In other sessions, attendees explored their vocational call, explored what it means to be a “Young Lasallian” and practiced the art of conversation.
In the final general session, Philippe Dulawan, associate director of formation and mission for the Lasallian District of Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea (ANZPPNG), challenged the students to become “wayfinders” navigating the seas of uncertainty. His charismatic energy and personality—and his Moana references—truly engaged the participants. One participant noted how it “helped to really emphasize and make our global mission come alive.”
Though limited by the medium of Zoom, students left the day, as another student noted, “gaining a more global understanding of the Lasallian mission and the spirit that binds us.” While the conclusion to this summer’s program did not carry the usual emotional gravitas of tears and hugs, the symbolic ending to the summer and ramping up for the new school year ahead brought hope to all gathered for this assembly to chart the way forward together as Lasallian Youth from across RELAN!
Submitted by Justin Martineau, associate director of DENA’s Office of Mission and Ministry