New York Catholic Youth Day’s theme of Be the Light originated from the day’s Mass readings and was used to inspire teens and urged the young people to motivate others.
About 170 young people, ages 14 to 17, celebrated the eighth annual event in person at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Bronx May 1, and many more teens participated virtually at home or at their parishes across the 10-county archdiocese.
“God is a light hidden in darkness,” said Alex Quinones, the day’s keynote speaker. He is a youth and young adult minister at Most Precious Blood-SS. Simon and Jude parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“There is nothing that can overcome His light and there is nothing that can ever change the way He feels about you and the way that He loves you and cares for you. So moving forward we have to answer that question for ourselves, which is, ‘Am I going to be the light for others?’ ”
The Be the Light theme came from the Acts of the Apostles, where St. Paul and St. Barnabas are the light to the Gentiles.
“You can be that light,” said Quinones, who encouraged teens to share their stories with others. “Guys, you have an exciting adventure ahead of you. I promise you this, you have an amazing story to tell. Jesus has just amazing plans for your life.”
Quinones reflected back on the second night of his weekend retreat for confirmation when he was in prayer.
“As I was looking at the cross, I felt the cross look back at me,” he said. “I felt Jesus look back at me from the cross, and just that simple understanding of love, of ‘Alex, I’ve always been with you, even when you said you didn’t want me, even when you said you were done, even when you turned your back on me. I didn’t turn my back on you. I’ve always been with you, my brother, and I will always be with you.”
Over the years, New York Catholic Youth Day has brought more than 5,000 teens together for music, fellowship, the sacrament of reconciliation, Mass, inspirational talks and service opportunities.
The Be the Light season kicked off Feb. 28, the second week of Lent. This year, young people were given the opportunity to serve their parishes and communities at clothing distribution centers and local food pantries for families in need. One group of parish teens put together care packages for U.S. Army soldiers.
“There is so much hope we can bring others,” Cynthia Psencik, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, the event sponsor, told CNY. “There is so much in our communities that we can do.”
Cardinal Dolan discussed the day’s theme in his virtual welcome.
“Your presence and participation today is proof of your witness to our everlasting guiding light, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “After overcoming a very challenging year filled with losses and interruptions to our regular life, you, our young people, bring our Church hope that a new day is starting and more than ever we need to shine the light of Christ wherever we go.
“Keep continuing to seek Christ, our light, each day. You know where, especially in the sacraments of the Church where He, Christ, Our Light, waits for you to strengthen, to heal, and nourish you.”
Ms. Psencik praised the teens in her virtual welcome, which followed Cardinal Dolan.
“This theme of Be the Light has been an inspiration to all of us, especially because in this past year you, our young people, have shown us how resilient you are in the face of so much adversity and darkness that we have experienced,” she said.
“And so we wanted to create this space to celebrate you and are so blessed that you have accepted our invitation to continue to be light. Never forget that in order to ‘Be the Light,’ you have to receive the Light, which is Jesus Christ. Do not be afraid to say yes to the invitation to follow Him each day. He needs you, our Church needs you, our world needs you to bring healing and hope to so many who need it.”
After praise and worship, interactive games, singing, dancing, confession and the keynote by Quinones, Father Joseph Espaillat, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, led a Holy Hour with Eucharistic Adoration to cap the day. Father Espaillat asked for five minutes of silence during adoration.
“Look at Jesus and allow Him to speak to you,” he said. “We can’t be the light unless we receive the light.”