A thousand Catholic youth congregated at Gonzaga University this spring to listen to speakers and celebrate their faith.
They participated in workshops on teen issues such as relationships and violence.
And, by the time they left, many had taken a pledge to stand against violence. They had signed commitment cards vowing to model themselves as “peacemakers and apostles of hope.”
They vowed: “I believe that each person, created in the image and likeness of God, is a gift from God and that respect for human life is essential to lessen violence. Therefore, I accept our holy Father’s challenge to become a communicator of hope and a worker of peace.”
The campaign, part of a national Catholic youth ministry effort for peace, is the latest in what seems to be a trend of teens taking pledges.
There are the popular True Love Waits and Worth the Wait campaigns (and countless spinoffs) where teens pledge to abstain from sex until they’re married. There are pledges to not drink and drive or to not do drugs.
Whatever the issue, teens across the country are signing pledge cards, promising the world they will be true to traditional values and good behavior.
“My personal belief is they use pledge cards to formalize their commitment,” said Father Leonard C. Wenke, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
“In the course of daily living they (teens) say yes to quite a bit,” Wenke said. But when it’s put in writing, it’s taken more seriously, he said.
Not all teens agree.
“I think most people don’t take pledges very seriously,” said Sally Ann Stocker, a Lewis and Clark student. “Some do, but most aren’t very interested. The majority of those who signed the pledge against violence cards did it because others were doing it.”
Gonzaga Prep’s Ann Carlson disagreed.
“I don’t believe that people signed it just because others were doing it,” she said. “This was something different. It was optional, and the teens had time to consider it and decide whether or not to sign.”
Benjamin Tiscareno, a Shadle Park graduate who attended the celebration said, “I believe that, at the time, people believed in the Stand Against Violence, but most got back into the swing of life and forgot about it.
“But while the majority haven’t done anything out of the ordinary, myself included, there are also those who are very serious about the pledge,” he said.
Katie Blakesly is one of them.
“I felt we needed an organization to keep students off the streets,” she said.
So she started a group for boys and girls in the Scouts programs. Blakesly calls hers a “High Adventure” group. Her plan is for members to take part in physical activities, such as swimming and hiking, to give them alternatives to the streets.
Wenke said most pledge campaigns try to incorporate adults so teens know they have support to live up to their commitment. In many cases, the teens pledge to behave a certain way while their parents agree to support them.
But usually teens lead the efforts.
“We get to run the show,” Pullman’s Matt Morscheck said of the annual Catholic Youth Celebration in Spokane where pledge cards were signed.
Mary Brown, supervisor for student services for Spokane’s District 81, said, “I think it’s something that has to come from the kids.”
Sometimes, pledge campaigns against drinking or drug use have been started by students in response to an incident involving students or hitting close to home, Brown said.
“When a standard is set in a community of kids and the kids agree to live by that standard, it really works,” Brown said. “It helps them do the right thing. A lot of kids want to do the right thing.”
Whether students actually live up to the pledges they make may be debatable. But most agree that at the very least the pledges create an awareness of a problem.
Gonzaga’s Carlson said, “The bottom line that those who signed the (stand against violence) card realized was that if you’re hurting others, you’re hurting yourself.”