Rally brings together Hispanic youth from across archdiocese

MILTON -- Close to 500 Catholic Hispanic young people from throughout the Archdiocese of Boston converged at Fontbonne Academy in Milton on July 8 for a day of prayer, dance, music, worship and adoration -- specifically geared for Hispanic youth.

Clad in royal blue t-shirts with the words, "Atrevete A Navegar Contracorriente" ("Dare to sail against the current"), the young people began the day with a musical revue that resembled a rock concert. A band, assembled solely for the retreat and made up of youth group members from several different parishes, led the crowd in song while members of the Hispanic Youth Group from Immaculate Conception Parish in Revere taught the crowd dance moves.

"Let's begin this day with an applause for Jesus," began Wendy Mejia, parishioner at Sacred Hearts Parish in Malden, who co-moderated the event. As the crowd erupted into cheers, she added, "Who ever said Christianity isn't fun?"

Moderator Leiri Bocanegra, parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Waltham, echoed Mejia.

"Because Jesus is happiness -- and those who have Jesus within them are happy," added Bocanegra.

Following the concert, Father Carlos Suarez, Assistant Vocation Director for Hispanic Ministries told the crowd, "You are not the future of the Church, you are the present. Jesus has called you, not for tomorrow or for the future, but for now."

"I see you and I see the great happiness of the Church," he said, adding that happiness shouldn't be confused with having a good time.

"The world offers entertainment, having a good time, but happiness isn't a new video game or a party to go to, it is to live your life with a purpose, knowing that you are not here by chance, and that Jesus wants you to be happy," he said. "Begin every day with this question: 'How do you want me to be happy today?' and don't be afraid of Jesus saying, 'Come follow me.'"

The retreat then moved into Mass which was celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

In his homily, the cardinal urged the young people to "dare to sail against the current."

He began noting that, many times, kings would disguise themselves as peasants in order to get to know their subjects, "but in Jesus' case, he didn't disguise himself, he stripped away his divinity not so that he could get to know us, but so that we could get to know him."

"Don't be afraid of getting to know him," the cardinal said, adding that "we come to know Jesus and His Father only through prayer."

Cardinal O'Malley cautioned the youth against the selfishness so prevalent in modern society, saying "that is poison to Christ."

"We are not here on this earth to be entertained, or to be served by others," he said. "If we want to be truly happy, we have to see the world with the eyes of God, we have to have the eyes of faith."

"True happiness comes when we are able to love with a sacrificial love, like Jesus, and truly become his disciples" he said. "Being a disciple is like learning a language -- you have to be immersed in the culture and to live it in order to learn it properly."

Cardinal O'Malley concluded his homily reading a prayer written by Pope Francis for youth.

"We pray that they might boldly take charge of their lives, aim for the most beautiful and profound things of life and always keep their hearts unencumbered...Keep their hearts open to dreaming great dreams and make them concerned for the good of others...May they be witnesses to your Resurrection and be aware that you are at their side as they joyously proclaim you as Lord," he prayed.

Following the Mass, members of Agape, the Hispanic youth group at St. Mary parish in Waltham, performed an original dance in preparation for the V Encuentro, a national gathering of pastoral leaders aimed at developing outreach and ministry Latino Catholics that will be held in 2018.

The evening portion of the retreat began with an original play, written and acted by members of the Hispanic Catholic communities of Lynn and East Boston.

Following the play, keynote speaker Azaneth Gonzalez, international singer and songwriter from Monterey, Mexico addressed the assembly. Onstage with her husband, Miguel, Gonzalez spoke of her faith journey, intermingling her life story with some of her original songs.

Born into a Catholic family, Gonzalez told the audience she "knew a lot about Christ, but I didn't know Him at all."

"Even though I grew up going to church, I realize now that many times I did it to look good, or to be with friends, or just because that was what I knew," she said.

All that changed when Gonzalez entered "La Academia," a Mexican television singing competition akin to American Idol.

Winning a spot on the show changed her completely, she admitted.

"I was swept away, I sacrificed my dignity as a woman. I sacrificed my faith. I sacrificed my values," she said. "I stopped living -- I was unhappy about everything."

When Gonzalez hit rock bottom, she began to question the meaning of her life. Unsure of why she was even alive, she went to a nearby retreat house, run by a Jesuit priest.

"That led me on an unimaginable adventure," she said. "The Lord began to heal me internally."

"Fourteen years ago, the Lord called me to follow Him," she continued, noting that every person in the assembly is called to a mission.

"I was called to defend life," she said. "If we understand that our entire lives are a reflection of Jesus, then our entire way of living is lived differently."

The retreat ended with eucharistic adoration, as Gonzalez and her husband played background music.

"This is the first event of its kind in over 20 years," said Natalia Pellicano, Director of Ethnic Faith Formation and Missionary Discipleship for the archdiocese.

Pellicano, who helped organize the event, explained that "after speaking with many different youth groups in parishes, the same thing was being said over and over: that Hispanic youth felt they weren't connected with each other in the archdiocese."

"We are hoping that this retreat will be a way to bring them together, have them connect with each other, and challenge them to go deeper in their faith," she said.