About 700 archdiocesan teens at New York Catholic Youth Day learned April 23 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie that they may be a key part of the solution to a big challenge facing the Church—evangelization.
The ninth annual event, hosted by the archdiocesan Department of Youth Faith Formation, had a theme of Return 180, the call to return back to Christ and community after the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Return 180, we need to come back to Jesus and we need to come back with fire, and we need to come back with passion,” said Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Espaillat in his homily at the morning Mass he offered.
Bishop Espaillat reflected on the day’s Gospel reading from Mark 16:9-15 in which Jesus encourages His apostles to spread the Good News and offered the teens a challenge before closing his homily.
“Today we need you to return back to Jesus and we need you to go and be on fire for God and His Kingdom,” he said. “We need you to be the witnesses that the world needs and to not be afraid (in sharing the Good News). Can we do that?”
Bishop Espaillat had everyone renew their baptismal promises before the congregation repeated the following after him:
“This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church, which we are proud to profess in Christ Jesus, our Lord, and today I recommit myself to God and to his Church and I promise to do everything I can to evangelize and to proclaim the Good News to every single person.”
The day started with live music and the first of two keynote speakers, Sean Bryan, known as the Papal Ninja from the NBC TV series, “American Ninja Warrior.”
“Jesus is my best friend, and I want you to know Jesus,” Bryan said. “Many of you already do, but I want you to be so in love with Him that you talk with Him and talk about Him with all your friends. You want to share that relationship everywhere you go.”
Following Mass and lunch, the teens rotated through three stations: the sacrament of confession and team building games; a service project packing meals for the hungry; and workshops on healing relationships, returning to prayer and following their call.
The day ended with Eucharistic adoration and the second keynote speaker, Father Agustino Torres, C.F.R.
“I am so excited that we’re doing this,” Father Torres told CNY. “This is bringing back a lot of memories. We used to fill this place with young people back in the day. To see this back again, they’re returning. It’s coming back.”
The pandemic canceled New York Catholic Youth Day in 2020 and limited the 2021 event to 170 in-person participants at St. Anthony of Padua parish in the Bronx, where Bishop Espaillat is pastor.
In prior years, the seminary and the Westchester County Center in White Plains served as sites for New York Catholic Youth Days with well over 1,000 teens attending.
“It’s wonderful to see the seminary just filled with people and young people at that,” said Brooklyn Auxiliary Bishop James Massa, seminary rector. “There have been few gatherings since Covid, and this is the first time we’ve welcomed so many youth from around the archdiocese back to Dunwoodie.
“This has been the venue for many gatherings of young people over the years. In 2008, Pope Benedict came here and there was a great youth rally that gave young people the opportunity to meet the chief shepherd of the Church, and so they are here today with many of their local shepherds, priests and youth ministers to have an opportunity to kind of reawaken their faith.”
Uchenna Obumneme-Akaneme, a 17-year-old parishioner of Holy Rosary and Nativity of Our Blessed Lady in the Bronx, enjoyed attending the 2019 youth day with her friends. Born in Nigeria and coming to the United States as a baby, Uchenna said she looked forward to participating in the service project.
“I come from a country that is poverty-stricken,” she said. “My family gives clothes that we don’t use anymore, or we give food, things to help them because they really don’t have much out there. If I get to do that here, knowing what I’m doing is going to help other people, it’s moving.”
Joelvis Jerez, a 16-year-old parishioner from St. Anthony of Padua in the Bronx, enjoys being around his friends, especially ones who share the faith as he does.
“It’s just a joyful place to be,” he said of New York Catholic Youth Day. “I hope to get closer to all my friends who I came with from my parish, and we can figure out new ways to attract more people to come.”
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