By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Angelo Kurbanali is the Content Creator at the Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Archdiocese, known as the Catholic Youth Commission (CYC).
He has been part of this ministry since 2020 creating much of their social media content: videos, posters, flyers, and copy. He manages the social media platforms and interacts with followers; along with others at the CYC, a monthly article is produced for the Catholic News.
The staff met weekly to plan the Commission’s content and messaging. Kurbanali said “the way we operate it is not just five individuals doing their own jobs but rather we think we all make up the body of the office.”
At year end there is a “major planning session” for the new year. “At the beginning of the year we flesh it out a little bit more…who will take responsibility for this and that. We leave room open because working for Church there will be things that just come up.”
Growing up Catholic
Kurbanali grew up in Diego Martin and attended St Finbar’s RC. He used the descriptor “cradle Catholic” for his early formation in Church, starting with his parents.
“My parents had big influence, they stressed in different ways the importance of always giving back and especially when it came to youth.” His mother Marylin Hospedales took him to the Carmelite Christ Child Convalescent home in Diego Martin to help, and his father Gregory Kurbanali had a “soft spot” for the children of Four Roads and immigrants. From the age of nine he was an altar server.
Kurbanali had another influence, Reggae music. “One of the main themes in that is about helping the youth come up and to try, versus this kind of oppressive system.” He added: “Reggae music had a significant impact on me growing up. It is really very fundamental to who I am.”
Kurbanali related that he listened to the same Bob Marley songs for two years and would ask his father questions about the lyrics, “What is this system they are talking about? Why he talking about youths not being able to survive and all these things?” At the time he was about five years old.
Asked about his continued involvement in Church given the concern that youths are missing from the church after Confirmation, he commented, “It comes down to a sense of belonging. I think if it weren’t for me being an altar server, I would very much follow the same path: after Confirmation, you not seeing me until marriage.”
Kurbanali went to Barry University, a Catholic university in Miami to pursue Graphic Design and it was here that he was introduced to theology. At the university, Philosophy and Theology are compulsory courses.
Kurbanali said as a child he was curious about his faith and asked questions of the religion teachers at school, catechists, and different adults; however, among the responses received was he should not question God and “that is the way the faith is”.
From the first theology class, Kurbanali began getting answers and realised it was okay to ask questions and challenge. “And to even think and use my reason,” he said.
He described the impact in terms of Matthew 13:44, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” “That is how I feel about my first encounter with theology”, he said.
Kurbanali ended up doing a double major in Graphic Design and Theology and graduated from Barry with a Bachelor of Fine Art (Graphic Design) and BA (Theology) and Master of Arts (Practical Theology & Ministry).
Kurbanali’s undergraduate and graduate thesis focused on the intersection of graphic design and theology. His online page states he hopes to change the world through graphic design and theology.
He said, “For me, it is really about me getting into this creative space but very much seeing through this Catholic lens with Catholic imagination, of understanding all of the world is grace and where could I find God…but especially graphic design to try to portray and depict that.”
He added, “if you’ve ever listened to a life-changing album, that’s what I’m hoping to do for people with my work.”
After completing his studies, he returned to Trinidad and February 2020, got the job at the CYC.
Youths want to use their gifts
One of the comments which the CYC has heard frequently from young people is that they believe their presence and usefulness at church events is just to “move chairs” and “set up for events”.
“They really don’t feel like they are empowered in a way that really allows them to fulfil their gifts and talents. That sense of belonging, that sense of openness is something the Church has to work on.”
Elaborating on the work of the CYC to fulfil its vision and mission, Kurbanali said a lot of work was done “behind the scenes”, meeting with parishes. One of its biggest mandates is helping them understand what youth ministry was about.
Kurbanali said when Pope Francis released his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on youth Christus Vivit in 2019, he spoke of a new model for youth ministry, “the accompaniment model”.
Ministry was walking “side by side” with them, and Kurbanali said it is through accompaniment that the CYC becomes aware of the needs of youth and young adults.
One outcome was an event held for single Catholic youth. “We would not be able to hear the different needs and views of our Archdiocese if we did not have a personal relationship with them if we didn’t walk with them. Any young person can come to us, and we open our doors to them, sit with them have a conversation and really just journey with them.”
Contrary to perception, youth want to stay in church and be involved but, if they do not feel openness and belonging then they will go elsewhere with their gifts and talents.
Asked what he thought of the future role of youth in Church post-Synod? Kurbanali said he was not overly optimistic but still hopeful. “I do have a sense of hope the youth will have a part in the integral part in the future of the Church.”
The consultations showed youths have energy, drive, and resilience. Kurbanali surmised that youths will persevere and keep knocking on the door, but they will not wait to be given access.
“We believe, ultimately, that we are called to be in this Church space…Ultimately, we will get to live our lives for God because the blessing and Word come from God.”
How can the Catholic community support the CYC?
· Find out about youth ministry. It is not just about having events to help youths. Youths need to be accompanied in their daily lives. “All of us remember what it is like growing up and the struggles,” said Kurbanali.
· Be open, welcoming, and understanding to youth and young adults. “We always say young people are not involved. Is there a seat at the table for us? And if there is not, are we going to create a space?” Open and welcoming church spaces will directly and indirectly support the CYC’s work.
· Volunteer. Offer your gifts and talents to the ministry.
· Help promote vocations. The CYC partners with Generation S to promote vocations. “Empowering young people to really use their gifts and talents to help them discern their vocation… by living out their gifts and talents through their day-to-day experience.”