CLI continues to educate and encourage Catholic youth leaders

By Becky Aubut
Anchor Staff

EAST FREETOWN, Mass. — Music filled with young voices singing along spilled out of the hall of Villa Maria on the grounds of the Cathedral Camp in East Freetown, as the youth attending this year’s Christian Leadership Institute got the morning started during their six-day leadership training experience. 

CLI is geared towards high school-age youth, taking the younger members of the Fall River Diocese and giving them the tools to find his or her potential for various ministerial roles and responsibilities in their parish, school and community.

Father Jeffrey Cabral has been on team for CLI 12 times, once as a seminarian in 1997, and then as a priest; but his journey at CLI began long before then.

“I keep coming back on team for CLI, because I myself am a CLI grad,” said Father Cabral. “I attended CLI in the summer of 1990, before my senior year at Dartmouth High School. I learned so much during that week and grew in my faith. Back then, I was able to return to my home parish of St. Julie’s in North Dartmouth, and help to lead the parish youth group with the newfound skills I learned at CLI. The skills that we learned at CLI were not just for our parish churches, but life-long skills that we are able to use.”

That’s exactly why Caleb Raposo, 18, a member of St. George Parish in Westport, decided to attend. A recent graduate of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, Raposo was encouraged by the director of Religious Education to attend CLI. A Faith Formation teacher at his parish, Raposo said he hopes to bring the skills he learned at CLI to his parish’s youth group.

“They really help us to grow as leaders. The whole structure is geared towards being the best leader you can possibly be,” said Raposo, adding the different workshops were designed to build your weaknesses as well as strengths. “I’m a talker, so when they took away my strength, I feel that it let others in the group put in more ideas than they generally would put in. It showed me that I should step back every once in a while.”

Raposo wants to study electrical engineering in college and acknowledges his newly-learned time management skills will come in handy: “In high school I was a procrastinator, so this has helped me focus on getting my work done on time. With all the planning we do, you can’t just sit back and let it happen. We have to plan stuff in the morning to do stuff at night.”

“The high school-aged youth who come from throughout the diocese, from each of the five deaneries, are being trained to be leaders for their parishes, schools, and communities,” said Father Cabral. “They not only learn leadership skills such as leadership styles, communication, group dynamics, and consensus-seeking, but they also have hands-on experience. After their first 24 hours in which they see the adult team execute the various activities, the youth are then empowered to brainstorm, plan, and execute all of the CLI activities from wake-up and warm-up exercises, to prayer, Mass, meal graces and environment, and even social gatherings. And you know what? They are all involved, highly participate at Mass, and are engaging in all activities. The youth are respectful, gregarious and desirous to learn.”

Ashlinn Hoffmeister, 16, is heading into her junior year at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis, said she attended CLI on the recommendation of Father David Frederici, chaplain at the high school, and some of her friends who had also attended. 

“We’ve been learning well with others, even if it’s a bunch of leaders in one group. We learn to calm down and share ideas,” said Hoffmeister. “I learned that I’m not that bad at public speaking. They definitely made it easier here. They had good advice to bring along, depending on how much time we had. They said task and maintenance, and I’m more of a maintenance person, talking to people and making sure they feel good about something, and making sure they get things done.”

Doing group work helps bring them closer, and each workshop is designed so that everyone has a leadership role at one point. Hoffmeister added she will bring what she’s learned to group projects at her school, as well as the student council. As for those who may be sitting on the fence about their attending CLI?

“Do it,” said Hoffmeister. “There are a lot of kids who came and who were very shy at first, and the minute you get here they bring you in a room full of other kids who don’t know other people, and you get to know each other really well. By the end of the first day we were all really good friends.”

Deacon Frank Lucca, campus minister at UMass Dartmouth and director of CLI, has been part of CLI since 2001. He said that about 30 young people attend CLI every year, and that clearly the word has gotten out that CLI is a “unique, fun and uplifting week” for the youth to gain skills that will last them a lifetime.

“CLI is not a retreat — although it bears some likeness to one,” said Lucca. “CLI is a process of leadership skill development helping to form Christian disciples. The skills that our young people learn at CLI would be very helpful to any parish that is beginning or continuing a youth ministry program. Every skill we help develop at CLI can be used in the future. The skills and leadership training are not much different than what many major corporations provide their staff.”

Alyssa Pereira, 16, is heading into her senior year at Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. She attended a Yes! retreat, and was encouraged to attend CLI.

“Yes! encouraged me because it was more of a Spiritual retreat than this (CLI), which is more of a leadership and activity-based retreat,” explained Pereira. “I feel like Yes! really gave me a good mindset to have the confidence to do something like this.”

Pereira has enjoyed the small workshops being run by CLI grads from last year, and feels the small groups support better communication. Each task was done with time limits in place “so we were taught to be focused on tasks, and we were able to focus on what we needed to get done, focus on our communication skills, and be aware of what we’re saying and try to incorporate all of these ideas,” she said. “It’s helped me recognize my own strengths.”

Aiden Soliday, 15, and student at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, said that Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Seekonk gathered a group of youth together to talk about attending CLI, and Soliday decided to attend.

“I thought it would be fun. I really enjoy the Masses because students run them. Even if you don’t come as a religious person, it definitely grows on you while you’re here,” he said. “I came here thinking I was a leader, and that everyone here would be a leader; I’ve learned that to be a leader, you have to be a follower. I’m working on that.”


Learning to follow as well as lead was a lesson he learned when his group had to plan the Liturgy on the first day, an endeavor Soliday admits “was kind of chaotic,” but said that they learned as the days went on to better work on communication, and that when the talent show planning rolled around, it went much smoother. 

Father Cabral credits CLI will helping create a system of friendships that youth from around the diocese would never experience. Along with learning new leadership skills, each youth has the opportunity to hone his or her creativity, become more open to their parish members and community, and become the future leaders of the Fall River Diocese.

“As Deacon Frank Lucca, says, ‘CLI is not a retreat, it is a process,’” said Father Cabral. “The purpose of a retreat is usually to get away from one’s normal life to reconnect with God through prayer, recollection and Sacraments. While CLI has many elements of a retreat, like Mass and prayer, its purpose is a leadership-seminar, where we expect the youth to learn, to grow, and to use their skills not only during the CLI week, but also to help organize and plan the upcoming Diocesan Youth Convention in March 2018.

“When I did CLI as a high school student in the summer of 1990, I found the week to be an awe-inspiring week of learning, bonding and prayer. I used the leadership skills that I learned at CLI at my home parish, at school, and even beyond. Now, as a priest and team member, I return to teach and share with the youth, as they give me (and the entire diocese) much hope and joy not only for the future of the Diocese of Fall River, but also for the present Church!”

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