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Members of Teen Mercy (including Jerry Bauman, center, back row), with Msgr. John Esseff of Scranton, Pa.
By Felix Carroll (May 5, 2009)
In 1998, Jerry Bauman, with his brother Michael, founded Teen Mercy, a youth ministry based in Scranton, Pa. Through the message of Divine Mercy, Teen Mercy's goal is to reach out to teens and lead them into a personal and loving relationship with Jesus Christ. In the following interview, Jerry discusses how the ministry came about, why the focus on Divine Mercy, and how he hopes to spread Teen Mercy in parishes throughout the United States and beyond.
How did Teen Mercy originate?
Well, I spent four years in Scottsdale, Ariz., where I learned how to do youth ministry from Fr. Jack Spaulding. From there, I went to Chicago and lived with Franciscan priests for about a year and a half and worked with runaway teens and gang members. Out of those two experiences I felt the Lord calling me to come home and start up a non-profit organization called Teen Mercy, bringing the message of The Divine Mercy to teens, especially those kids who are at-risk or who have never been baptized, never been in a church, and who feel unloved, unwanted, and forgotten. Teen Mercy became an incorporated non-profit in 1998. The Most Rev. James C. Timlin, Bishop of Scranton at the time, blessed our ministry.
How do you minister to teens?
We begin by gathering kids and inviting them to come and pray with us and have some pizza. We pray the Rosary and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy. Then we invite them to come together for Sunday Mass. We also plan works of mercy projects in the community, including ministering to the sick, caring for the terminally ill, and providing aid to the poor. We call on teens to live the Catholic faith as young missionaries of Divine Mercy.
Is there a misconception about teens and spirituality — that they don't want to hear about God and spirituality?
Yes, absolutely, there's a huge misconception. I've worked with kids who were in gangs. I've worked with teens who were prostitutes and runaways. Whether you have a teenager who grows up in a good, secure home or with an upbringing that's the complete opposite, all teens really want to know two things: Is there a God? And does He love me.
People think that to start working with teens you have to coax them in with fun things like ski trips and things like that, and then talk about God later on. I've learned that it's the complete opposite that's most successful. When you're out front and talking boldly about God, they'll listen. The thing about teens, too, is you can't fool them. You can't lie to them. You can't trick them. They see right through grownups. So when you're really honest with them, really loving, really bringing Christ to them, they want to hear. Jesus sees His young people searching for the truth. He sees their hearts longing for His love and their desire to share His love with others.
What's the most difficult aspect of working with teens?
The lack of support from our Catholic faithful community, whether the laity or the clergy themselves. Some priests are afraid to work with kids. The lay faithful need to really roll up their sleeves and really help the young people. I think there's a big gap in support. That's what's so hard. It's not the kids.
Why do you think the message of The Divine Mercy is a great tool for drawing teens into a relationship with Christ and the Church?
What the message of The Divine Mercy does for teens is it fosters that beautiful intimacy with Christ into their lives. Through St. Faustina's Diary, you can see that intimacy, and that's something that the kids almost instantly identify with. The kids really can relate to that. They learn that He wants to give life to His young people, and He calls them to come to Him with great trust. Through this intimacy, teens learn to become God's instruments of His love and mercy for the world — because in this loving friendship teens can become one with the Source of love and mercy, Jesus Himself.
Also, through the message of Divine Mercy, teens can come to understand that Jesus sees the hearts of His youth and knows the sins they have fallen into. Many of them are so messed up, so confused, and so broken, and so it's comforting for them to hear the words He spoke to St. Faustina. "The greater the sinner the greater the right to My mercy " (Diary, 723).
It would seem that for many teens, trusting in Jesus would be a big challenge.
It is. Jesus knows that for some of His young ones trust is very difficult. His youth have experienced much pain and suffering in their life. Many teens don't trust anyone. When their father abuses them, or there's no father, or their mother has a live-in boyfriend, or the parents are on drugs, it's very hard for these children to trust anyone. They may feel that God hasn't loved them. But really what it is is that the people that have surrounded them in their life have not shown them God's love. When our culture does not fortify our youth in faith in God, and where there's a lack of family love and support, teens feel unloved, unwanted, and forgotten. Ultimately, the kids who turn to God do so because they experience Divine Mercy in their soul. I've seen that with the worst of the worst. It's because of what He does in their lives that makes these kids turn around.
So you've had a teen center in Scranton, you ran a food pantry there, and you've ministered in the streets. What's next?
We feel our Lord is asking us to work to inspire Teen Mercy as a parish program throughout the country. We're getting our website up. We're writing a booklet, "I Choose to Love," which will teach teens how to come to God and His Divine Mercy and to live the Catholic faith, and instructing teens to love the way Jesus loves through works of mercy.
To contact Teen Mercy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.