March 9-15, 2006
VOL 125 NO. 9
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Young Catholics are Feeling the Power of Faith
“I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.”
— Job 42:5
The gymnasium at St. Matthew’s School in East Syracuse came to life last Saturday. High school aged boys and girls filled the place with laughter, song and sometimes solemnity. This was the fourth FX Youth Rally held in the Western Region of the diocese and the theme of the day was “This is the Time” — apparently the time for these young people to acknowledge the importance of Jesus in their lives.
More than 500 teenagers from Binghamton, Syracuse, LaFayette, Rome, Utica and further came together to hear the speakers, dance to the music, have lunch together, experience reconciliation during Lent and have fun all the while. The hallway beside the gym featured merchandise like t-shirts that read “I agree with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” and “Not all habits are bad.” Playing cards decorated with Scripture passages and books with titles like Ask the Bible Geek were for sale. A vocations table and respect life table were located in the back of the gym, and both had visitors. Not all the youngsters were enthusiastic at 9 a.m. in the morning, however, when the day began. Nick Casciano, a Henninger High School sophomore looked fairly tired and uninterested under his baseball cap. He said he had to attend the rally as part of a Confirmation class requirement at St. Matthew’s and he wasn’t exactly thrilled. But, he conceded, he knew he’d feel differently a few hours later. “I have to admit, our Confirmation program now is a lot better than it used to be,” Nick said.
Before the program began, youngsters were using cell phones to find out where their friends were sitting. And, more than one group of girls could be heard laughing and whispering, “Here he comes! Here he comes!” But, the bottom line was obvious: they were having a great time and they were there for the experience no matter what their motives were. Rosemary Dacko brought a vanload of teens from the Brady Faith Center. They were happy to hook up with friends they had met through projects with parishes throughout the diocese. Seven of them were from Africa but did not appear to suffer from communication barriers as they enjoyed the music and speakers. Mary Margaret VanDamme brought a group of teens from the diocese’s Catholic Deaf Community and they too, looked like worshipping with a large group of peers was fine with them. Matt Bugnacki, youth minister from Holy Family Church in Fairmount, served as emcee for the day. He pumped up the group and got them responding to his fun banter. He also told them they would get back as much as they invested in the day’s activities. “What time is it? It’s time to worship. It’s time to have fun worshipping Christ,” he said. Bugnacki also introduced Bishop James Moynihan who offered a prayer to start the day.
Bishop Moynihan said he had pondered what he would say to them, and that when he thought of them, he thought of Pope John Paul II. “I thought of how you got that name ‘Generation Pope John Paul II.’ I thought about when he died last April and how you flocked to Rome to mourn his passing and tell the world how much you thought of him and how you stayed on and cheered his successor,” the bishop said. He told the teens that Pope John Paul II had said two things that stood out to him: one at the beginning of his tenure as pope and one at the end.
“He [the pope] said ‘Don’t be afraid. Be not afraid and open wide the doors to Christ,’” Bishop Moynihan said. “And then some of his last words were, ‘Put out into the deep.’ Both messages were words to the Apostles. You understand your message, your charge to be courageous as he was.” The bishop talked about both John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI saying that they “preach Jesus Christ completely with integrity — no changes, no watering down, no pandering to cultures.” After the bishop’s blessing the Martin Doman Band brought the group to their feet for some singalong fun. Doman and his wife, Charlene, are graduates of Franciscan University of Steubenville. They live in York, Pa. and travel much of the time because of Martin’s position as Director of Music and Praise and Worship for the Harrisburg, Pa. diocese. The young couple have been married for 10 years and have five children. They met on their first day at college and said they could have tried other careers, but after leaving Steubenville felt the need to “give back.”
Charlene Doman brought her message of respect and dignity to the young women at the rally. Her thoughts before her talk included letting teens know that society tries to take away the inherent beauty of today’s women by exploiting that beauty. “Society wants to make us the same as men and we’re not,” she said. “We’re different. We’re not one gender, we’re two.” She said that the Catholic Church is not against sexuality, but rather wants to expose the truth about sexuality. “And there’s beauty in that truth,” Charlene said.
Before lunch, Bob Perron from the Diocese of DesMoines, Iowa, broke the crowd up with his funny stories about his family. He ended his presentation, however, with stories about his father that almost any teenager could relate to. Perron described how he considered his hard-working father a “dork” while he was growing up. How he thought his father dressed in unattractive clothes and tried hard to make conversation with him and all young Perron did was respond with monosyllable answers. It was 10 years ago when he found out his father had Lou Gehrig’s disease and wasn’t expected to live for more than a few years. “I didn’t know what to say,” Perron said. All of his father’s muscles would slowly atrophy and he would die. During one of his visits with his father, Perron said the man he found in the wheelchair had broken down and was crying. Perron said he got some tissues and dried his father’s tears and asked him what was wrong. His father was upset because he couldn’t do anything for himself anymore and finally asked, “Why don’t you visit me?” Perron said he was busy traveling around the country bringing the message of Christ to so many people while the best example was sitting right in front of him. Perron said his life was never the same after that day. His relationship with his father grew stronger and stronger.
“The day before he died he was lying in bed and he looked like a skeleton,” Perron told the teenagers. “I grabbed his hand and looked at him and said, ‘Dang Dad, you look horrible,’ and he said, ‘So do you.’ I told him I didn’t know what to say and that I could never repay him for all the love he gave me. He said, ‘You’re right Bob. You can’t repay me.’” Perron’s father told him, “You can’t repay love. You can only pass it on.” The teenagers seemed to understand Perron’s message and many nodded in agreement when he mentioned how they may view their own parents. He also talked about the organization he founded, Pray It Forward. At the rally, there were dog tags with registration numbers on them available to purchase for $5. Through Perron’s website, www.prayforward.com, youngsters sign on with that registration number to pray for someone for seven days. After their commitment is over, they pass the tag onto someone else who then continues the prayer chain through the website.
Along with separate sessions for men and women, young people at the rally had workshop choices that featured discipleship, building a relationship with Christ, prayer and worship. Youth ministers had their own workshop with Bob Walters, Syracuse Diocese director of the Office of Youth Ministry. There was a vocations panel option as well. Newly ordained Father Joseph O’Connor, seminarian Chris Celentano and Sister James Therese Downey, OSF, principal of Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School, spoke with youths about vocations. More than a dozen young people, mostly women, listened to their stories. “Why did you walk into this room?” Father O’Connor asked them. Answers ranged from “I just walked into the room” to “I want to learn more about the priesthood” and “Like, how do you know what God is calling you to do?”
Father O’Connor suggested that they make space in their lives for spending quiet time with Jesus. “Make space in your lives, make a quiet space in your bedrooms maybe with a candle or something,” he suggested. He also told them to allow others to see Jesus within them. “Learn to pray, to listen to God and to let other people call you forward,” he said. All members of the panel agreed that the call of God to serve was not like a roar of thunder or a direct phone call from heaven. Rather, they said the call came little by little — steady but never really ceasing. Some youngsters said they were worried about celibacy or lack of family life. Members of the panel said that they do not feel they gave up family life because of the community of priests and sisters that they live among. Father O’Connor admitted that those questions were the same ones he had before becoming a priest. He said he was worried about not having a particular person to share things with at the end of the day. Father O’Connor said he prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament about his concerns and the answer came to him, “Is this not intimate?” and that was the response he needed to move forward. More than a few of the teens at the rally had been to Franciscan University at Steubenville for a weekend conference and they wanted to come to the FX Rally because they envisioned it as a “mini Steubenville.”
T.J. Greene is a senior at Chittenango High School and he has been to Steubenville three times. “It is a life-changing experience,” he said. The group of friends he was standing with after lunch agreed. “My spirituality was, ‘Yeah, I’ll go to church’ before Steubenville. Now it’s on a whole different level.” The enthusiasm of the rally-goers would reinforce T.J.’s comments. They all appeared to “kick it up a notch” and they took JP II’s advice. They were not afraid.