Engaging today’s youth to believe in a culture of love

By Allyson Escobar     5/25/2016

Several years ago, a group of friends were talking about their questions and experiences with love. What started from a simple conversation between friends has become a full-blown, global movement about protecting integrity and restoring a human culture in love.

“We are all about restoring culture through the experience of virtue. We do that by going to schools, parishes and youth groups, speaking about sexual integrity and dignity of the human person, inviting our culture to become more fully alive in Christ,” shared Tom Costello, a Culture Project California team leader and missionary from New Jersey. “As a young adult community, we are also trying to be witnesses of that mission.”

The Culture Project International is a young, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that started in Pennsylvania in July 2014, and has since expanded to over 30 dioceses across US. Rooted in the teachings of St. John Paul II, the mission focuses on engaging today’s youth to seek purity and holiness in Christ.

In the past two years, the initiative has grown to include a formative mission program with a team of 30 missionaries, and has empowered over 60,000 students nationwide to believe in a culture of love.

“We hone in on the dignity that we have as men and women, and focus on the freedom of living out and reclaiming our sexual integrity,” said Catherine Kilmer, Expansion Officer with the Culture Project. Kilmer also bravely shared her story about being caught up in her high school hookup culture, and how the message of virtue changed her life.

“I remember the late nights, the sticky beer bottles, the morning-after regret…but most of all, I remember the feeling of use. I looked in the mirror one morning and I didn’t like who I saw,” Kilmer said. “But one day, a speaker came to my high school, and he spoke about chastity. The speech absolutely revolutionized the way I thought about myself, others, and how I saw my life. It opened my eyes to the wider Gospel message of Christ and human integrity. I thought about young men and women who, just like me, were settling for less than the best God has to offer. All it took was one speech.”

With today’s high abortion and divorce rates, normalized hookup culture, a porn industry that generates billions of dollars each year, and mixed messages about love and respect, society is up against a lot in the culture.

“There has never been a civilization in the history of the world where the majority of our teachers are relativists, promoting ideas that our moral standards are up to us to decide,” Kilmer noted. “But there is hope and a better way of life, and we are dedicated to uphold that better way.”

On May 5, The Culture Project hosted its first inaugural banquet and fundraising event on the West Coast, in Newport Beach, Calif. Over 80 benefactors, friends, and those interested in the project gathered on the Newport Marina to learn more and hear stories of mission.

Christina Barba, Culture Project founder and executive director, spoke about the project’s purpose and the search for identity in today’s youth.

“Our mission is to simply remind people of who they are and what they are made for, focusing on their inherent dignity, value, and worth,” Barba, whose work has been honored by Our Sunday Visitor and the Students for Life of America, shared. “Every human person is made out of love, created for love. We at the Culture Project believe in love. We believe in the human consent, that love is a total gift of one self, and that authentic friendships are real. We believe that it is possible for two people to make a commitment of love to each other, and to have a faithful, lifelong marriage…and even a happy one, at that! In this day and age, we believe that it is possible.”

Over the past year, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and the archdiocese invited the leadership team, including five missionaries and the national committee, to come to Southern California and spread the Culture Project’s message throughout the region.

“It really started from the ground up, going from parish to parish and door to door. We always had the vision to go beyond the East Coast, beyond Philadelphia,” said Uta Trogele, president of the Culture Project’s California committee. “The diocese really loved the idea. I was traveling a lot and involved for over 10 years in the pro-life movement, and I really feel for the young people. I don’t want them to live the wrong lifestyle; I want them to believe in God and in themselves.”

Outreach missionary Josh Kilmer agreed, “Our whole mission is to tell men and women who they are in the eyes of God. Knowing our identity, we can further convict ourselves of our identity in Christ.”

Costello also talked making a full-time commitment with the Culture Project. “A lot of people think becoming a missionary is taking a year off, but it is really a stepping stone. You have to face yourself and who you are as a person, and our work is an extension of that. We get trained in theology of the body and other certifications, but we also learn how to speak well and do that effectively, and it’s a full commitment to helping young people but also growing as an individual.”

Today, missionaries with the Culture Project travel across the diocese, networking and speaking to Catholic schools, youth and young adult groups about ideals of chastity, modesty, and pure love. In its first year on the West Coast, the initiative has reached out to 83 different parishes, presented to 258 groups, and has changed the narrative on culture to over 8,700 students.

Focusing on personal encounter, faith formation, and living in community, the Culture Project is rooted in prayer and having a deep relationship with God.

“Our work is to be missionaries of encounter,” Costello shared. “Our culture can be restored through the individual encounter, meeting people where they are at.”

“When we go into these schools and remind students of their worth and dignity, how does that not bring joy to your heart?” asked another missionary, Maryrose Richards.

Kerry Ann Caswell from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Irvine applauded the initiative. “The Culture Project touches my heart. As a parent, no matter how cute I dress, I can’t talk to today’s high schoolers about chastity or natural family planning, or to celebrate the way God made their bodies. They won’t buy into the message if we’re not relatable. They need more young people to encourage them to do more than follow the crowd. The more than this is talked about, the more habits and perspectives can really be changed.”

“It’s nice to meet a group of people who share the same desire to promote living to our full potential, who aspire to something higher than what society wants to uphold,” said Ngozi Genevieve Nwosisi, a parishioner of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Irvine.

Barba also thanked the local Orange County and Los Angeles dioceses for their generous support in making the Culture Project a reality on the West Coast.

“We have a wonderful community to support building a sustainable presence here. Our core belief is community,” she said. “We aim to engage and restore the culture in love, particularly the youth, with the hope that just one talk—even just 60 minutes—can change the course of their lives.”

To learn more about the Culture Project, please visit www.restoreculture.com.