At Westchester County Center in White Plains, Janelly Oliveras, 15, took a few minutes from faith formation to share her thoughts about New York Catholic Youth Day 2018.
“Being here has inspired me to seek out more ways that I can be involved in my community,” Janelly said during the daylong Oct. 20 event, a faith formation gathering for high school students annually sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York.
“I try to convince my friends that God is real, and that Mass and church are beautiful things that they should be involved in.”
As she spoke with CNY in the center’s lobby, the sounds of Alob, a California-based Catholic band, blasted at a distance on stage, inspiring the youthful crowd with lyrics of praise for the Lord, with many youths singing along and responding with joyful cheers.
Janelly said her faith helped her cope with the August 2017 death of her confirmation class teacher, Eugene Ubawike Jr. She said she later learned Ubawike, 31, continued to teach her class in the months leading to the confirmation Mass despite the physical pain he was suffering from sickle cell anemia.
“I didn’t find out he was sick until afterward. I was very sad. I didn’t know he was in pain,” said Janelly, whose family parish is Sacred Heart in the Bronx. “He really made me love my faith.”
More than 1,000 people attended the sixth annual New York Catholic Youth Day, which ended with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Dolan. The number included several dozen adult volunteers, priests, deacons and religious brothers and sisters. It featured faith-based motivational speakers, workshops, the music band and a Helping Hands/Catholic Relief Services service project in which the teens packed 71,496 service meals for needy families in Burkina Faso. The Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation sponsored the project.
The day’s theme was “Be Bold,” to be bold in the faith, willing to evangelize and spread the Good News—and to resist adverse peer pressure, including negative social media postings, and societal norms that counter healthy moral views and practices.
The day included an opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation, Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and exhibits. The youths were clad in light-blue B-Bold T-shirts, and volunteers wore white B-Bold T-shirts. There were large blue and white “Be Bold” and “Be Not Afraid” signs throughout the center.
Speakers and workshop presenters focused on the “Be Bold” theme, as did the cardinal. They shared personal challenges and struggles they’ve experienced, such as when Ansel Augustine talked about losing people close to him to violence, and Cardinal Dolan spoke about a niece’s battle with cancer. Augustine is a youth ministry expert and motivational speaker from Louisiana.
“Whatever you’ve got going on, God is in on it,” Cardinal Dolan said in his homily. He told the youths to always trust in the Lord and remember that He is there for them.
“When things are going fine, it is easy to believe that,” the cardinal explained. “But here’s the challenge: That is hard to believe when things get tough. That is difficult to hold on to when things begin to turn on us in life.”
He reiterated that the Almighty is always with us, repeating, “Whatever you’ve got going on, God is in on it.” The cardinal, at the end of Mass, blessed some youths who believe they may consider a religious vocation.
Augustine, during his talk, often instructed the young people to shout, “Be Bold, Be Bold!” And they did. He said evangelizing doesn’t always mean talking to people about Scripture—it can be simply showing compassion to those who need it during difficult times, and expressing a caring attitude in word and deed.
“Walk with Christ. It’s up to us to make a difference,” Augustine shouted. “Everybody, make some noise for the Lord. Be Bold!” Another speaker was Jackie Francois Angel, a Catholic speaker and songwriter from California, who also focused on the day’s theme.
One of the workshop leaders was Father Pierre Toussaint, C.F.R., who was ordained for the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in May. “It’s about being bold in Christ,” Father Toussaint, 32, told CNY shortly after engaging in lighthearted banter with several youths as the day’s activities came to an end.
“I wanted the guys that I was talking with in the workshop to know that they are loved by God in a real way—and just know that they can come together in their issues and their problems and know that the Lord meets them there,’’ added Father PT, as he is known by many youths.
Raphael Coffino, 15, was also present. His family parish is St. John and St. Mary in Chappaqua. Raphael, acknowledging he has not actively practiced his faith very much, said, “I came because I wanted to hear the stories from people—outside of people that I know—on why they are Catholic.” Helping to pack the service meals, he said, “made me feel helpful and useful. It made me feel good.”
Cynthia Psencik, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, which hosted the gathering, told CNY, “I am just in awe of the spirituality of our young people—their openness to the Word of God, and the presence of God.”