It's never been that hard for me to be a Catholic, but four big things have happened in my life that affected my faith in the institution of the Catholic church.
When I moved to Georgia from New York, that tested it. Not by much - but more than before. Instead of being in the majority, I was part of a minority religion. I got over it quickly and moved on, my faith not faltering much. I reached the point where I was proud that I was different.
Sept. 11 strengthened it. That day rocked everyone, including me. I turned to God so much more on that day, it seemed. I was praying every second as I watched the World Trade Center towers go down. My prayers were rapid-paced as I heard that a plane had crashed near Pittsburgh, my native home, where my sister, brother-in-law and aunt live. At the time, rolling news bulletins said "Plane down in Pittsburgh." They were wrong.
Because of those events, I started to appreciate what God gave me more and more.
Being a teenager and growing in my beliefs probably tested my faith the most, until recently. I grew to rebel against the church's beliefs on issues such as reconciliation, divorce and birth control. I started to become pro-choice - believing that women should have the choice of abortion, even if I didn't think anyone should actually have one. I figure, it's their life and they'll have to deal with the consequences.
I started detesting going to church, believing it was so routine and predictable. My father and I would argue about going to church. I was almost ready to give up Catholicism.
Then, the child-molestation scandals hit.
After hearing the claims of sexual abuse - across the country and locally - I look at my church as a wrecked home. A shelter for many to turn to but devastated by these events that raged through it like fire.
When the news first broke I was angry. I kept thinking, "How could these priests do this?" In church, we were asked to pray for the priests - but there was almost no mention of the children who had been harmed. I kept thinking about how these children were affected. They weren't the only ones, either - nuns were subjected to the same things.
I felt these people were being treated unfairly because their victimization was going unnoticed.
With time and patience, my anger died down. I prayed more, asking God for an answer as to why this had happened. It brought me back in touch with Catholicism - and in touch with a new priest at our church, St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church.
Father Robert Cushing brought a vibrancy to Mass. He didn't do his homilies from behind a script and a pulpit; he came out front and talked about what he felt. He made Mass more intimate.
The people at Mass also helped bring me back. It's their kindness and warmth as they say good morning to my parents and me every Sunday. It's their familiarity when I get the bulletin from someone who asks how I'm doing and tells me to have a good week. They've all affected my life and my faith, and I can't ask for more than that.
I still disagree with the church on many things. And I have a lot of friends who aren't Catholic and may not believe what I believe. But now, I'm proud to say I'm Catholic. It takes the big, scary things to bring out your faith in a church. And it takes the warmth and kindness of a priest and parishioners to help it grow.
Teen board member Allison Young, 17, is a rising senior at Evans High School.
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