BORN in Scotland, where her family lived just outside Glasgow until she was 11 years old, Lizzie Rea, the new youth coordinator for the Derry Diocese, now lives in Redcastle, in the parish of Iskaheen. County Donegal was like a second home place to the young Glaswegian, with a mix of Irish and Italian blood in her ancestry, as her family had holidayed there regularly since she was born.
"Generations back, our family was from Donegal," said Lizzie, adding: "My maternal grandparents were both from Glasgow but they met in Buncrana, in The Plaza. My father's family were from Lurgan. My great-grandfather was Italian and his wife was Irish." However, the 22-year-old had initially found it hard to adjust to living in Inishowen when her family first moved over from Scotland, though she now loves it and is very much involved in her local parish, like other members of her family.
Saying that her faith is a massive part of her life, Lizzie continued: "Most of my family are practising Catholics. I went to a predominantly Catholic school that was run by the Catholic Church in my home town. In Scotland, Catholic schools are fighting for survival, so there is a strong Catholic ethos.
"My mum and grandmother were the major faith influencers in my life. I remember my mum dragging me to devotions in May, and to Adoration, and during Lent we went to 8 am Mass. From I was very young, I went to Lourdes in the summer on pilgrimages with adults with special needs, along with my mum who was a group leader. Then, when I became a teenager, I went to Lourdes at Easter to help out, so all of this was a massive influence on my faith development.
"My faith is really just part of my identity. Where I came from you were a Celtic supporter and a Catholic and, if you had Irish ancestry you were an Irish Catholic. Catholicism and Celtic go hand-in-hand when you are in an Irish community in Glasgow. My brother was an altar boy and he and my parents always went everywhere that Celtic played."
After moving to live in Donegal, Lizzie went to school at Moville Community College, where, she said, her RE teacher, Tom McCabe was a massive influence on her: "He was the co-ordinator of the Pope John Paul II Award, and participating in it made me think about studying RE and also what I could do in my community. I didn't find doing the Award hard as I was already involved in my parish and community, such as helping my mum with the children's choir in Drung Chapel, for which I play the guitar and sing."
"There were times growing up when I didn't want to go to Mass, particularly when my grandmother died. That was three years ago during my last year at university," recalled Lizzie, adding: "For a good six months to a year, I was angry because my grandmother had been a devout Catholic but was terrified about dying. I wondered at that, thinking what the point was. Then I went to Medjugorje for the first time and that slowly changed."
The Theology and History graduate studied at university in Maynooth, where she was in some classes with seminarians. Initially thinking of becoming a teacher, Lizzie said that, after submitting her Masters application, she just felt that she couldn't do it and ended up volunteering in the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre. This experience led to her getting the job of youth parish worker at the Cathedral.
"I applied for my Masters again last year," she continued, "but I realised through my work as a youth parish worker that I wanted to do youth ministry work, because I loved it. I felt that maybe my mission was to try and get young people back into the Church by helping them to see its good points and its value, and try and give them some of the experience I had growing up, as I was very fortunate in the faith experiences that I had.
"So, when the job for youth co-ordinator for the Diocese came up, I went for the interview and was delighted to get it. I have been in this role now since August and find that it has much more scope. I am using everything that I learnt through my degree and I love it.
"I am working in the Catechetical Centre with the Diocesan Pastoral Youth Leader, Yvonne Rooney, as part of the youth team, which involves me with the Pope John Paul II Award participants, the Diocesan Youth Ambassadors and also the Derry Youth Community, as well as with all the parish youth leaders."
Through her role, Lizzie is also involved in school retreats and with the recent launch of the GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) programme in parishes for Year 8s.
"There are loads of different faith activities for youth and it is great to be part of this," she remarked, adding: "I love working with young people as I find them much easier to work with. I tell them the fantastic message of the Church and highlight what they are missing out on. When they ask, 'Do we have to go to Mass?' I tell them, 'Yes, and sit up at the front!'
"Young people tend to get their information about the Church from the media, and it is wrong information so we need to get around that and try to inform young people that what they are getting from the media isn't the case. I love a good debate so I am happy to have these discussions with young people.
"We read in the media about young people being depressed and under pressure, but if you really speak to them about this, you discover that it is not their parents who are putting them under pressure; they just want their children to be happy.
"I think young people need someone to ask them to take a step back and look at what they have got and see how fortunate they actually are. They don't have to walk six miles for water! That is what my mum told me any time I felt sorry for myself. Sometimes we just need to be happy where we are at."
Youth events coming up in the Diocese are a sleep-out for charity in February, a climb of Croagh Patrick and a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in the summer.