Our first congress day was the Thursday Youth Day. This was an amazing experience with 13, 000 teenagers from across the USA converging on Anaheim for a day of praise, worship and learning about their faith.
Started commenced the day with Mass celebrated by LA Archbishop Gomez in the main Arena with 6,000 students and their teachers. The Theme of the day was Dare to Believe, which was the focus of Archbishop Gomez’ homily (below).
He challenged the youth to bear witness to Christ and to work hard to be a saint and to recognise those things that take us away from God. He also spoke of the witness of Venerable Madeleine Debrel a French woman who left her faith but returned to a relationship with Christ through prayer, daring to believe.
The liturgy was beautiful with the music and liturgical movement led by the youth who did an amazing job!
The keynote of the morning was from Katie Prejean McGrady, a young on fire speaker who gave a testimony to the challenges she experienced as a young woman and the graced she received through developing her relationship with God. One key takeaway from her session was the importance of praying through the difficulties we experience. She was a terrific storyteller and a wonderful role model for the students there. She spoke of having a daring faith, of bravely stepping out of the boat like Peter did to walk on water water with Christ.
My next session was with Jesse Manibusen, a vibrant evangelist and musician. He is a larger than life figure who presents a striking image in his smiley face tee shirt and guitar.
Jesse’s message was of living a life of meaning by believing deeply. Between songs he spoke of rejecting the apathy that we often lapse into and reminded us that we don’t go to church, but that we are the Church.
My final session was with Joe Melendrez a young school-based Catholic hip-hop artist and speaker and founder of God Swag Apparel, a company dedicated to having youth wear their faith literally on their sleeve.
Joe’s session Mark My Words was a high intensity mix of music, dance, singing and personal testimony. He spoke of the power of words to build people up and to tear people down and the importance of witnessing to the truth through our words. The highlight of his session was his performance with Fr Rob Galea, an early look at an upcoming collaboration between the two performers.
One of my key learnings from the day was the difference between the USA and Australia in terms of religious education. The majority of groups attending the youth day were parish-based, rather than school-based, with their leaders being the parish catechists, who are often volunteers for Saturday morning Catechesis. For many students, attendance at the youth day was a compulsory aspect of their Confirmation preparation program. The Sacrament of Confirmation is offered much later in the USA, with children confirmed in their mid teen years. This highlighted the importance of ensuring students maintain their engagement with their faith and their local parish. This is particularly important with the age children begin distancing themselves from their faith becoming lower and lower.
The Youth Day would be a terrific experience for some of our CSYMA students to attend along with perhaps some of our Youth Ministry Officers.