Youth celebrate Church, Christ and faith

On Feb. 7, 1,300 teens from across the Archdiocese of Boston gathered at Merrimack College in North Andover for a youth rally with Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley.

The five-hour event’s theme, “Rebuild My Church,” was based on the words Christ spoke to St. Francis, a phrase that has become the catchword of the archbishop since he used it at his Installation Mass.

The rally included skits and music, speeches and inter-active activities coordinated by the archdiocese’s Office for Youth Ministry.

Teen performances reflected the ethnic makeup of the archdiocese, from an African American choir to an Irish step-dancing group, a Vietnamese troupe and praises sung to the Lord to the beat of South American cumbia. They also presented skits on being accepted and Jesus’ last hours before his death and crucifixion.

In one of the skits, six teenagers came up onto the stage one by one carrying boards bearing words such as “Prayer,” “Morality,” “Faith,” “Courage,” “Love,” “Enthusiasm” and “Energy.” They fitted the cards together like pieces of a puzzle to create a makeshift church. When the steeple was placed on top, the sound of bells was heard.

Throughout the rally, on the stage was a wooden cross bearing a crown of thorns and a sign that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Also nearby were flags of more than a dozen countries and a banner with a drawing of St. Francis and the day’s theme. During the day, teens also helped build a model church using LEGOs and wrote religious messages on a giant banner set against a wall.

Among the speakers at the rally was the Reverend Oscar Pratt, director of vocations for the archdiocese, who told the youth, “You are the Church of now. As the Church of now, you have work to do. You have to remind older members of the congregation that you are living stones and you are priceless in God’s eyes.”

Lia McCarthy, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington said she was glad she had attended the rally.

"It made me feel accepted," McCarthy said. She attends public schools and sometimes feels isolated because of her faith. "To be in a place with others who love God as I do makes me feel accepted."

McCarthy said her favorite aspect of the rally was seeing the diversity of cultures come together in the name of Jesus. “It’s great to see so many Catholics from different backgrounds,” she said.

There were close to 100 youth and adults from Sacred Heart Parish who attended because youth leaders made it part of the confirmation class.

The Daughters of St. Paul sold books during the rally, and Sisters of the Holy Union were present distributing pamphlets about their order.

"We need to be visible," said Sister Christine Lacroix of the Sisters of the Holy Union. "It's important, because we can help young people realize they have a vocation to be witnesses to Christ and one way to do that is religious life. Whatever work they do and whatever they are, they have a vocation," Sister Christine said.

Members of TLC, the Teen Leadership Crew of Lexington, were about to perform when Archbishop O’Malley arrived. Youngsters chanted “Bishop Seán, Bishop Seán,” as the Capuchin Franciscan headed to the stage.

"Well, you look marvelous," Archbishop O'Malley said. "The best part of the job is coming to youth rallies like this."

He sat attentively and applauded the TLC skit, laughing when one of the youths could not keep his hat on his head.

Archbishop O’Malley later led a question-and-answer session during which teens posed questions to him.

Asked what his vision for the Church was, the archbishop responded, “That we will be a faithful, welcoming, evangelizing community that would make Christ’s presence felt in our community. The kingdom needs to be more visible.”

He also urged them to stay true to the Gospel. “It’s very important we see our faith as a way of life and that God’s law, that is written on our hearts, is what will make us free and noble,” Archbishop O’Malley said.

"We need politicians and doctors and lawyers and newspaper people who have faith. Our culture is no longer religion-friendly, no longer a vehicle for Christian values." He said it is important to belong to a worshiping community.

"We'll be like branches cut off from the vine and we're going to wilt. We need to be connected if we're going to be faithful," the archbishop said.

Speaking at the Mass on the day’s reading of the fishermen who could not make a catch until Jesus told them where to throw their nets, he told youth not to be afraid.

"We have so many fears, so many phobias, low self-esteem, fear of criticism, peer pressure, responsibility, the future and of failure. Jesus Christ tells us 'Do not be afraid. I will make you fishers of men.'"

But that is not enough, Archbishop O’Malley said. “Someone said we have become keepers of the aquarium. We have to get out there and announce the good news.”

Just as the apostles challenged the Church to follow Christ, Archbishop O’Malley encouraged teens to do the same.

"Now is our turn to carry the message out to the world. Be ready and willing to carry the message, because we know it is the answer."

He reiterated the importance of worshiping together.

"We need to come together as a worshiping community where we witness to one another," Archbishop O'Malley said. "There are so many things we can do on Sunday mornings or Sunday afternoon, but nothing can be as important as being with a worshiping community and with Christ at the altar."