Dec. 11-17, 2003

By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Teens at St. John the Baptist raise the roof in spirit and song

ROME –– Teens of all faiths come together weekly to strengthen their faith and focus on issues they face every day. Life Teen is a comprehensive world-wide Catholic youth ministry centered on the Eucharist and dedicated to teaching teens in grades nine through 12 about God and His plan for them. Topics such as depressions stress, peer pressure, morality and spirituality are addressed and prayed about in a supportive and welcoming environment. St. John the Baptist in Rome is the only parish in the diocese that has a Life Teen organization. Every Saturday evening, after the 6:45 p.m. Life Teen Mass, more than 60 teens spend the next few hours worshiping, singing and socializing. Brittany Harvey said that she first heard about the organization in her confirmation class and started to attend just to see what it was about. “I was immediately hooked on the energy and the spirit of this group and haven’t missed one Saturday night,” said Brittany. “The group helps bring me closer to God and lets me have a way to worship Him that is very dear to my heart — through music and being with other teens who all want to give their lives to God, just like me,” she said. “This group gives me the strength to face every day with my head held high, spreading God’s word and standing up for my faith.”

That belief is shared by many, including MTV’s Real World actor, Matt Smith. The actor was in Rome on Dec. 6 to speak with the teens on issues such as morality, spirituality and how his faith often causes ridicule in the world of acting. Smith is a national spokesperson for Life Teen and gave testimony of the difficulties he encounters by practicing his faith in the superficial setting of Hollywood. His message contained humor and at the same time sent a powerful message that was enthusiastically received by the teens in the audience. “I’ve been to Rome, Georgia and I’ve been to Rome, Italy,” said Smith. “But, I didn’t know Rome, New York existed.” Smith arrived in Rome from Arizona. “It’s cold outside, but there’s a fire in here,” he said. “In here we experience the power of God. We are in a happy place. But what happens when you leave this place? When you go out into the world?” asked Smith. “What happens in here happens in 930 parishes around the world.” Smith said he prayed about whether or not he should go on MTV’s Real World show. He said he knew that when he spoke about his faith, problems would arise. “I try to be bold in my faith,” said Smith. “I’m sick and tired of Christians being wimps.” When Smith was hired to be a cast member on Real World Versus Road Rules, he admitted other cast members acted angry toward him. One girl wanted him voted off the show because his Christian faith made her feel uncomfortable. “I prayed and prayed,” said Smith. “Lord, help me out. I’m going to praise the Gospel.” Smith did not get voted off in that round. Santino Lauricella enjoyed listening to Smith’s message. “He brought it down to the teen level. He also added humor when he presented the topics, which gave it liveliness,” said Santino. “His message was very realistic.” Smith talked at length about chastity and respecting women and their bodies. Santino said that teens need to realize that everything in society seems to be centered around sex and drugs. “Teens need to realize this type of thinking isn’t going to go away,” said Santino. Smith’s talk really made an impact on Santino. “It showed me that if this guy can do this kind of thing on TV, it should be easier for us. We all know that it isn’t and we should pray for the courage to be more outgoing in our faith,” said Santino.

Stephanie Spindler is a big fan of the show, Real World. “I watch Real World,” said Stephanie. “Since the first day I saw Matt on the show, I knew he was there for a reason and that he was going to change someone’s life. One thing that really helped me relate to Matt was when he was voted off and had to go face the opponent by hanging upside down on a trapeze over the pool.” Stephanie explained that before the competition, Matt had everyone on his team pray over him. “Even though he lost, he kept going and spreading the word,” said Stephanie. “I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t just pray when you want something. You must pray, thank and praise the Lord for everything, both good and bad,” she said.

By the time Smith was voted off the show, his team members were not only joining him in prayer, but wearing Life Teen T-shirts in support of Smith’s faith. The girl who was uncomfortable with Smith’s faith was praying herself by the end of the show. “God is making miracles in the Real World house,” said Smith. “God did beautiful things.” Smith reminded the teens that life outside the church was difficult. “When you leave this church, things are tough,” he said. “But remember, God will not leave you orphaned. Inside each of us is a God-shaped void. It can’t be filled without filling your heart with God. Open your hearts and minds. Break down the walls and say, ‘Lord, I let you love me,’” said Smith.

For more information on Life Teen, contact Sister Mary Eileen at St. John the Baptist Parish in Rome at (315) 337-0990.