SASKATOON - “I am a man in need of a stepping stool” is how Greg
Thompson describes himself.
Born with a physical disability, Thompson stands less than five feet
tall. When speaking to youth, the Catholic speaker from Alabama draws upon his
life experiences of bullying and ridicule. Youth relate to his challenges and
struggles, as he then describes how he overcame these issues, and how his faith
deepened because of them.
Thompson was the keynote speaker at a diocesan “Momentum: The Voice”
youth rally for grades 6 to 8, held Oct. 13 at the Cathedral of the Holy
'I used to walk into a room and call myself crippled kid and people
would say ‘ah that's cripple kid’ and then you get comfortable with cripple kid
and then you can make fun of him,” said Thompson. His father explained that
when he did that, he never gave “cripple kid” a chance to say who he really
“So I took that opportunity from that day on to say ‘this is who I
really am. This is what I am really about.’”
Thompson related how by the end of high school he was student
government president. His election speech spoke of the earlier bullying he
received from classmates: “You guys used to pick on me. You guys used to treat
me like crap and I wanna be your vice president. You know why? Because this is
who really am. I don't hold any of that against you. You just didn't know what
you were talking about, so I am the smart one, so elect me,” laughed Thompson.
Involved with youth ministry for 25 years at both diocesan and
parish levels in Alabama, Thompson is currently serving as director of liturgy
and music for St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Madison, where he lives
with his wife Jaren and his two daughters, Michelle and Meagan. He is a year away
from ordination to the deaconate, which will bring a change to how much time he
will be able to spend speaking to youth, he said.
While keeping his talks relevant to young peoples lives, Thompson
rooted his presentation in Catholic theology and faith discussion. He said that
he found the young Saskatoon group unique in being up to the task.
“Usually Grade 6 and up, it's very entry level; mostly fun and games
and very surface. I am humbled to follow Michael Chaisson who spoke here last
year. He has done some amazing work here and in following his foot steps we
called this group to a higher standard,” said Thompson.
“I talk to them in a real way and I talk about teachings and I tell
them it is time to grow up and start doing stuff,” Thompson said of his wish to
push the envelope in terms of teaching theology. “I snuck in some teachings
today about virtue. In a quick nutshell I taught them about 14 paragraphs in
the catechism about natural law. We are natural human beings first, with an
inclination to goodness.”
Thompson talked about the carry-on effect of giving this year’s
youth more to think about at the rally. “I can see these kids when they reach a
high school level will be ready for more. For them it won't seem so boring or
unfair when we pull out the Catholic teachings or Theology of the Body.”
He also spoke about the Momentum rally in terms of what it means in
relation to the restoration of the order of initiation sacraments. In the
diocese of Saskatoon the sacrament of confirmation is now celebrated in grade
two, in conjunction with first Eucharist, as opposed to celebrating
confirmation years after first Eucharist in grades 6 to 8. The change has
highlighted the need for ongoing faith formation of youth, and the Momentum
rally is envisioned as one way to encourage that process.
“Here in Canada where many diocese are reordering sacraments there
can be a little struggle with that,” acknowledged Thompson.
“I used to say confirmation was a lot like a Bar Mitzvah (the coming
of age celebration in the Jewish faith) and maybe it is, but that is really
only because of the age we present it in the States. I feel like I am here for
a type of Bar Mitzvah type of event that calls these kids forth,” he said of
the diocesan Momentum youth rally. “Now here is an opportunity to redefine a
calling forth of children to their young adulthood, a coming of age experience
that is unique here.”
With live music, video screens and podcasts – called “GregCasts” –
being recorded and immediately posted to You Tube and Facebook, the diocesan
rally in Saskatoon was cutting edge in using multi media and social networking.
The 2012 Momentum rally involved some 150 grades 6-8 youth from
across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon gathering for the day of praise
and worship, games, fellowship and inspirational talks. Families joined the
youth for Mass with Bishop Don Bolen and supper, before the day wound up with a
Bishop’s Cup basketball tournament between clergy and youth, held at nearby St.
Joseph high school.
Diocesan youth ministry coordinator Colm Leyne pointed to the
collaborative nature of the event, which also featured the Awakening retreat
team from FacetoFace Ministries. “We also received a lot of support from other
youth ministries in the area. The Challenge Girls Group helped with
registration and catering and Pure Witness Ministries were the masters of
ceremonies for the day. All of that – combined with good attendance from out of
town youth – made this rally a truly diocesan event.”