When youth come to us, they sometimes ask some of life’s most challenging questions—“Why did this happen to me?”, “Why is there suffering?” or “Do I deserve love?” For youth wishing to seek spiritual solace and find some resolution, our pastoral minister Maria will accompany them on their quest.
“When our young people ask the big questions, they immediately become bigger than their challenges and feelings of brokenness,” Maria explains. “Their questions aren’t about finding all the answers. They are scared that they do not deserve love and they want someone to go with them on what can be a dark and lonely journey to finally discover that they are beautiful and beloved.”
Connecting with Maria is voluntary. Some youth seek her out every day, while others may choose to connect with her more occasionally. Our chapel, which is a sanctuary to our kids, is a beautiful, inclusive and welcoming space.
Young people come to us from every religious background. Although Maria’s background is Christian, she is well versed in the tenants of other religions. She honours the roots of our youth by conducting and organizing religious services and observances of all major faiths. She also partners with a variety of religious groups to help kids connect to their faith. Getting back in touch with their religious community often helps young people reintegrate into society.
Maria invites musical guests, storytellers, theology students and others to feed the spiritual needs of our youth. She holds discussion groups on theology and moral questions. She also takes them on nature walks and retreats. “Seeing the beauty of nature is a powerful way to rekindle the spirit,” she says.
Maria also conducts memorial services and keeps a memorial wall for our youth—victims of the street that tragically passed away.
For many youth, the pastoral program is an important part of the care they receive here. Braden stayed with us for one month. He was suffering from depression at his dad and step-mom’s house and he had trouble with motivation, so they kicked him out. In his short time at Covenant House, he began to transform. Maria describes him with her signature poetic style as “being catapulted into ‘big life’”. He reconnected with his mom in Ireland and decided to move there. He prepared to leave us full of a new hope, but he made a point of saying goodbye to Maria. He told her, “It is breathtaking that in one month, I have received so much. I have met so many people that I love just when I least expected it.”
Ellie is a victim of human trafficking. Although she first comes across as assertive, she is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and low self-worth. When she first came to us, she struggled with thoughts of suicide. She checks in frequently with Maria and brings her little gifts—most recently a balloon that Maria has kept on display in her office. Maria says, “The generosity of her spirit is amazing.” She tells her all the time that she is loved and valued. Maria feels that Ellie is starting to internalize the fact that she is loved by many workers and peers at Covenant House. “She realized she can’t kill herself, because she is loved,” says Maria.
Stephen is a young man who traveled here from the west coast. His mother struggled with addiction and moved often, which meant his schooling was often disrupted. But when he was in school, he always excelled and enjoyed it. Growing up in an aboriginal culture that valued storytelling, Stephen developed an ability to weave a compelling tale. Maria and Stephen became fast friends and she supported him to share his talents. He recently asked her to review his application to university. His essay was a long and moving recount of his childhood. Maria trusts his application will be successful.
“It is a privilege to be with youth on their spiritual journeys. I am invited into their sacred space where they are the most open and vulnerable,” Maria shares. “The promise we give young people while they are here is that they will be touched by love and therefore be changed.”