August 6, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 20
Rediscover the One encounter logo.
Diocese’s youth ‘Rediscover the One’ in encounter with Jesus
Y oung people in high school in the Diocese of Richmond heard a lot of messages at the Diocesan Youth Conference which emphasized God’s love for them and their desired response as Catholic Christians.
The conference, held July 27-29 at the Hampton Roads Convention Center, drew about 400 participants, including about 350 youths and 50 adult chaperones.
Activities at the Youth Conference included Mass both Saturday and Sunday, the Sacrament of Penance, breakout sessions on a variety of topics, a keynote address by Andy Churray, an urban missionary with Dirty Vagabond Ministry in Brooklyn. N.Y., a Holy Hour Saturday night with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and small group discussions at the closing session before Sunday Mass.
But there were also ample opportunities for fun with impromptu games and loud cheering which preceded sessions with a more serious tone.
The message of God’s love seemed to get through. One who strongly felt this message was Carlos Sifuentes of Sacred Heart Parish in Danville who told The Catholic Virginian about his experience at the Saturday night Holy Hour. The youths knelt on the hard floor and reverently focused on the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance on the stage. They were joined by many of the diocese’s seminarians who earlier in the evening had clapped, danced and cheered to the music.
“It was overwhelming,” Carlos said of the Holy Hour. “I actually cried.
“I was thinking how I was so blessed by everything I have — good health, I have both parents, my sister, I have my friends,” continued the teen who is a junior at George Washington High School in Danville.
“I have everything necessary for life which God has given me.”
As the Holy Hour began, John Hopke, Catholic Campus Minister at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, and other musicians played music. Songs were sung by the teens with the words of each stanza displayed on giant screens at both ends of the room.
“Be open to what God wants you to receive tonight.”
“Just let Him love you,” Andy Churray had said earlier.
The Church’s teaching of chastity was the topic for 9th and 10th graders in separate sessions for boys and girls on Saturday morning. C.A. Rhodes, married for three years to Rocky Rhodes, youth minister at Christ the King, Norfolk, and mother of a two-year-old daughter, spoke to the girls. Aaron Hostetter, youth minister at Holy Trinity, Norfolk, spoke to the boys.
“I spoke to the girls about being true women of God,” Mrs. Rhodes said.
“I contrasted the messages young girls get from modern media about their sexuality, their beauty and their worth with what Scripture tells us about how God views these young women.
“They are known by Him, loved by Him and priceless to Him.”
There were moments of laughter while God’s message was discussed. What was a serious topic and much on the minds of teenagers was dealt with in a positive way.
Mrs. Rhoads acknowledged that some Catholic teens see the Church as always saying ‘no, no, no’ to behavior which is sinful, but she emphasized that “sex is a gift from God to married couples” and that “sex outside of marriage is exploiting one of God’s gifts to married couples.”
“There was a fantastic response,” she asserted. “We had a great question and answer session for about 15 minutes and I think that they were able to see the Church’s message in a positive way. Teens are not that hard to read.”
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo presided at Mass Saturday morning. Father Rob Cole, pastor of St. John the Apostle Parish in Virginia Beach, was the homilist.
Using a parable about a seed which can grow if planted properly and nurtured, Father Cole said the seed given to the youths present was given by God at their baptism. In a reference to the conference theme “Rediscover the One,” he challenged the teens to rediscover who they are.
“Your life has great merit when you are one with God,” he said. “May you rediscover you are the one who is to evangelize others with the seed God has given you.”
Father Daniel Beeman, pastor of Holy Trinity, Norfolk, encouraged those at Mass to experience the Sacrament of Penance and said that many priests were available to hear their confessions. He allayed any fears they might have about not knowing how to approach the priest with what to say.
“No matter what sin you have to offer to the Lord, remember that His love and mercy is much greater,” Father Beeman said.
In an open forum with about 25 youths, Bishop DiLorenzo spoke of the American dream which has drawn so many immigrants to the United States. But what is the American Dream, he asked. What is it that it would draw people to this country? A number of youths quickly answered the question.
The variety of responses included freedom, choice, capitalism, opportunity, freedom of speech, jobs and money.
There was a religious aspect to what is called the American Dream, the Bishop contended.
“The American Dream is rooted in scripture,” Bishop DiLorenzo suggested. The Bible shows respect for the human person, he added, and Catholic Christians rely on Scripture for many of the Church’s teachings.
Later taking questions, a young woman asked that if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, shouldn’t she be allowed to have an abortion? Before the Bishop could answer, a young woman responded.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Veronica Gruning, of Ascension Parish in Virginia Beach, quickly interjected.
Another youth, Coltrane Conklin, of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in West Point, answered that even if a pregnancy occurs from rape, the human life which begins from conception should not be punished for these unfortunate circumstances.
The baby formed in the mother’s womb should be allowed to be born, Coltrane said. After birth the mother is free to give the baby up for adoption.
The Church speaks strongly about the dignity of the human person, Bishop DiLorenzo said, and has spoken out against issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He acknowledged that others have a completely different view and want no restrictions on these issues.
“It’s my role as a Catholic bishop to say where we understand God wants his loving will for us to be,” Bishop DiLorenzo said.
“The Church of ‘what’s happening now’ allows you to do whatever you want to do, but that’s not the Catholic Church.”
Among the many benefits of being at the Youth Conference is that Catholic teens who live in areas where there is a small Catholic presence get to meet their peers who share the same Catholic faith.
Eduardo Manriquez, of St. Joseph’s, Martinsville, said some students at his high school have asked him why Catholics worship Mary.
“I say ‘negative’ to that question and I get other absurd questions like ‘why are Catholics like Jesus freaks?’” he said. “They think Catholics are over the edge on many things.”
Eduardo is very clear to those who ask him about abortion and feel one should not limit choice.
“It’s a baby, not a choice,” he said. “I think abortion is wrong. You’re killing a life.”
Mike School, director of the diocesan Office for Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults, was pleased by the response the Youth Conference participants showed during the weekend.
“The teenagers have a lot of zeal,” he said. “At the end of the day, they may have heard so many stories it’s hard for them to know what to believe.
“The message of Jesus is bullet-proof,” he continued. “With Christianity, there is hope. It is not a dead end.”