Hundreds of teens attend Syracuse Catholic Youth Rally
By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
On March 2, hundreds of middle and high school students grades 7 to 12 from across the Syracuse Diocese came together to attend the 2013 Race 4 the Cross Syracuse Catholic Youth Rally and Conference held at Bishop Grimes Prep in East Syracuse.
From the first moment the students arrived, it was obvious that Kelly Colangelo and Bob Walters of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, as well as their dedicated team of volunteers, had designed every aspect of the day’s events to provide the ultimate experience of faith and fun.
For Grace Perry, 13, and Sally Trop, 14, from Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville, the morning’s kick-off rock-and-roll concert with the Bob Rice Band was the highlight of the day. The two girls joined several other teens as they crowded toward the front of the stage to dance.
First time attendee Mackenzie Walker, 14, from Holy Family Church in Fairmount, wasn’t sure what to expect when she registered for the conference. As the day progressed, Walker was surprised to find the day filled with crazy games like “Hunter, Bear, Ninja.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Walker. “I’ll probably come back again next year.”
Ann Schell, of St. Matthew’s Parish in East Syracuse, has two children, Zack and Samantha, who attended this year’s rally and she predicted they’ll be back again.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids, especially the older ones,” said Schell. “They come in nervous but they have a great time all day long, especially on the inflatables. They are a real ice-breaker.”
Fourteen-year-old Tim Mulchaey from Holy Family Parish smiled in agreement. “The inflatables are definitely the best.”
More than just fun and games
Although the rally offered plenty of fun, the day also focused on learning about service to others and provided speakers on topics such as dating or choosing a religious vocation.
At the “Hands for Service” workshop facilitated by the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, 16-year-old Michael Brhel of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Endicott, had a choice to make: create a birthday card for the homeless or join an assembly line of laughing teenagers making dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the poor. Grinning, Michael quickly joined the “peanut butter side” of the line and started slathering the gooey mixture on several slices of bread.
“I’m a lot better at making sandwiches than making cards,” joked Brhel as he haphazardly joined his half of the sandwich with that of his “jelly partner.” Together they pushed the completed sandwich down the line to be cut and bagged by other youths in the workshop.
Wendy DelSanta, a youth minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel and a newcomer to the rally, was impressed not only with the number of students participating, but also with the quality of the programming.
“This is the first year our group has gone [to the rally] and the kids are really enjoying themselves. It’s great for them to see they’re not alone in their faith,” she said.
As an avalanche of sandwiches threatened to cascade onto the floor, DelSanta stepped forward to lend a hand just in time.
“Even projects as messy as this one get kids excited about service projects,” laughed DelSanta. “It gives them the chance to recognize Jesus in their everyday lives.”
Helping teens feel good about their faith and make sound decisions in the future was a message conveyed by keynote speaker Mary Bielski, founder of ALL4HIM ministries. Bielski talked directly to the teens about the impact of the Gospels on their lives. She also hosted a “Dating in the Year of Faith” workshop, where she entertained and informed the teens on the difference between the male and female brain.
“Women’s minds are like a great big spaghetti bowl filled with pasta. All the strands touch and overlap, making it possible for us to talk about our shoes, our lives and our relationships all in one sentence. Men’s brains are more like a row of boxes that never touch. They have a relationship box. They have a friend box and they even have a nothing box. And of course, they have an Xbox, “ laughed Bielski.
Rounding out the program, Father Joe O’Connor, director of the diocesan Office of Vocation Promotion, and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal spoke to the teens about religious vocations. The youths were also encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation throughout the day, which ended on a high note with Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham.
As the students clapped and cheered during the final events of the day, Howie King, a member of the youth ministry team at St. Stephen’s Church in Phoenix and a father-to-be, credited the efforts of all involved in making the day such a success.
“The kids had a blast,” he said. “These types of events are important because they give kids a chance to connect in faith with other like-minded kids without the fear of getting picked on. It’s great to see the kids meet up with friends from school or meet new friends from other schools. It’s a great event and it certainly beats having them waste a Saturday on Facebook.”