Cardinal Dolan told 1,300 teenagers attending New York Catholic Youth Day at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie about his visit to a school for refugee children during his trip to Iraqi Kurdistan last month.
He spoke of meeting a French woman who came to the area and learned the language to teach the Iraqi children to pray. For 15 minutes each day, she would take them to a small chapel and tell them that “God lives in their hearts and soul,” the cardinal said.
The cardinal, speaking during his homily at the closing Mass at the April 30 youth day, explained that as the children learned that God lived inside them, they began to share their problems and let Him know when they were scared.
The day’s Gospel reading from John, 15:12-17, said in part, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
The cardinal said, “That is powerful. That means we are a house of God, and we are pretty important in God’s eyes.” It follows then, that “when we look around, we are looking at other houses of God.” That means each person should treat others with dignity, reverence, love and respect, he said.
The day included time for prayer and Eucharistic adoration, games and entertainment, music from the Jon Niven Band and Rio Squad, and keynote presentations. The program took place on the seminary grounds, underneath an enormous white tent set up in the back of the main building, and inside the seminary chapel and the Cardinal Spellman Recreation Center.
“My deepest hope is that young people walk away from the event on fire for their faith because they encountered Christ here—through the prayer, the speakers, the music, other people, activities and through the liturgy,” said Ela Milewska, director of youth ministry.
“I want the participants to know that they are the Church of the present and are called to be witnesses of God’s mercy in their everyday lives. I hope they take this challenge back to their homes, schools and parish,” she said.
The day’s theme was “Witness Mercy! Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Mt 5:7).”
Cynthia Psencik, associate director of youth ministry, said “Witness Mercy” complements the theme of this summer’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, which is “Blessed are the merciful.” Pope Francis will lead that gathering July 25-31.
“New York Catholic Youth Day is also an experience of the larger Church for those who cannot travel to Krakow this year,” she said.
Teens from St. Joseph’s parish in Middletown brought the most food supporting a drive for Catholic Charities’ “Feeding Our Neighbors” campaign.
One of the day’s two keynote presenters was Bob Perron, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va. His topic was “Witness God’s Mercy.”
Natalia Nunez, a teen from St. Angela Merici youth group in the Bronx, told CNY that she learned a few things from Perron’s lecture. “He said you have to make time for silence with God so you can change,” she said.
“It’s helpful for us to have mercy for others because we are teenagers and we are still learning,” she added. “We make mistakes, but we want to improve. Jesus said we have to be merciful to other people.”
The second keynoter, Katie Prejean, a Catholic youth minister and speaker from Louisiana, discussed her presentation with CNY. “The main message of my talk was simple: Jesus Christ has given mercy to us, and we have been transformed by encountering that mercy, so we must share that,” she explained.
“Teens need to realize that Christ is merciful to us in the smallest and biggest of ways,” she said. She said that Jesus is merciful in the Eucharist and in sacraments like confession and “also in the moments where he comforts us when we are anxious or holds us close to His heart when we are weak.”
“Mercy is not something we have to go ‘find’ out in the dark corners of the world,” she said.
Prela Gegovic, 15, of St. Bartholomew’s youth group in Yonkers, attended New York Catholic Youth Day last year as well. “It had a really big impact,” he said. “I wanted to come and support the people who hadn’t come.
“People overlook mercy,” he said. “Since it’s the Year of Mercy, I feel like this day will truly help people find the definition of mercy and it will help them.”
He added, “For me, personally, mercy is helping other people and truly understanding people.”