Witness This

Aug. 19-Sept. 1,2004
Witness This
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Young People Gather for Praise and Worship

A “Mega-Worship” was held at Holy Family Church in Syracuse on August 2. “Feel the Power of the Spirit” was the theme for the fifth youth Mega Worship in the last year, which included nearly three hours of group and individual worship, singing and a keynote address by Bishop Thomas Costello.

“We are here to pray for one another, uphold one another and strengthen one another,” Father Richard Prior, pastor of Holy Family Church, told the 200 students gathered for the service. “God told us that when two or more are gathered in a powerful, amazing way, He is present.” Musicians from Holy Family Church, featuring a drummer, a saxophone player, several guitarists and singers, got the group off their feet and singing along to spiritual songs. Tunes included “God of Wonders” and “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” Some youngsters clapped their hands, and others swayed their arms in praise. “We want you to open your hearts and know how awesome God’s love is,” said Lauren Derrigo, a senior at Franciscan University, a Catholic college in Steubenville, Ohio, who led the group in several songs.

The service included powerful testimonies by college student Mark Ranieri and Emily Wood, a West Genesee High School senior. Their stories explained the challenges that many teenagers encounter when trying to sustain their faith. Ranieri, a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Syracuse, left high school in touch with his faith, but things changed when he entered college at SUNY Geneseo. He joined a fraternity, became student body vice-president, earned good grades –– and strayed from his faith. “I went to college and my Catholicism was left at home. I thought if I had all this other stuff, then I did not need God,” Ranieri said. “Why should I save up my riches for heaven when I can go grab a beer and hang out with my friends and have immediate gratification?”

But Ranieri, who will be a junior this fall, explained that in spite of his many achievements, something was missing from his life. “I needed God,” he said. Ranieri caught what he calls the “God bug” during a youth retreat at Franciscan University. “God was cool,” Ranieri said. “He was the man.” Through Ranieri admits that his relationship with God isn’t perfect, he said that he feels God’s presence daily.

“I still argue with God, but I have found this amazing sense of completion,” he said. Woods has also struggled with her relationship with God. She explained how she felt abandoned by God following the death of her grandfather. “He was my guardian angel. He meant so much to me,” said Woods. “I got to the point where I wanted to die. I thought that was the only solution.” The power of the Holy Spirit gave her strength to overcome her depression. “I had found the solution to my loneliness and it was God,” Woods said. “I will always struggle with life, but He will never leave me.”

Following the two testimonies, worshippers were invited to share their experiences with God. Five young women and one young man took the microphone and spoke briefly. Allison Murphy, a senior at Bishop Ludden High School, described the importance of fellowship. She said that a strong support system, including her peers, makes it possible to remain strong in her faith in a culture that tells teenagers that God “isn’t cool.” “God is like that really dorky friend you don’t want to admit you’re friends with,” she said. “But it’s cool to be friends with Jesus.” Father Prior praised the students for having the courage to share their experiences with others.

“It is not always easy to do,” he said. “That is why we are here, to hear other people’s journeys to help us find our own way.” During the keynote address, Bishop Costello talked about the presence of the Holy Spirit. “From the moment of our baptisms –– believe it or not –– the Spirit lives in us,” said the bishop. “You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Bishop Costello ended the celebration with uplifting remarks. He told the students to manifest the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. “You are witnesses,” he said. “You are called to live in such a way that people who see you will understand your relationship with Christ in your lives.”

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