Diana Paulino, 14, was one of nearly 1,100 teens who attended the seventh annual New York Catholic Youth Day at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. “It teaches you about always following God’s way, and how to pray and contemplate,” Diana said of the encouraging messages she heard during the Oct. 19 gathering.
Diana is a parishioner of St. Raymond in the Bronx who attended the archdiocesan event with fellow teens from her parish youth ministry group. “We’re all young, and this helps us to be closer to God,” Diana told Catholic New York. She said helping to pack meals for the needy “really touched me.”
Joining Diana for the interview was Sister Faustina Ferko, C.S.F.N., youth minister at St. Raymond’s, who noted that Cardinal Dolan’s homily message about martyrdom past and present “was powerful for me…and he talked about speaking out.”
New York Catholic Youth Day, with the theme “Speak Up!”, was for youths from ages 13 to 17.
The keynote speaker was Chika Anyanwu, a Catholic speaker from Anaheim, Calif., who talked about the significance of having hope and trusting the Lord.
Cardinal Dolan celebrated the event Mass, noting in his homily the sacrifices of the North American Martyrs, who were Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. Oct. 19 was the feast day of the North American Martyrs in the United States.
“Lord, it is good that we are here!” Ms. Anyanwu asked the youths to shout several times, and they did, each time shouting louder in unison and with joy. She spoke about personal struggles related to losing relatives who died when she was a teen and in her early 20s, and a close friend who was killed in a car accident with multiple fatalities.
She also spoke about, as a teenager, relying too often on alcohol to deal with these and other life challenges, such as tension within her family.
Telling the teens about the significance of loving and praising the Lord, Ms. Anyanwu said, “When you speak it out, it becomes a part of you; when you’re not afraid to say it, then you start living it. I need God. You need God…Our Catholic faith is so beautiful. Give God your ‘Yes.’”
Cardinal Dolan, preaching about the martyrs, noted how important it is for the teens to pursue holiness in their daily life, and the role that a strong faith can play in overcoming personal struggles.
The cardinal noted the sacrifices of Christians who are persecuted in many parts of the world and don’t have the freedom to speak up for their faith as those in the United States do.
“We are called to live it (our faith),” the cardinal said. “And as we say: something’s not worth living for if something’s not worth dying for…You and I are asked to live, and even if necessary to die, for Jesus and His Church and our faith.”
The Youth Day activities included inspirational songs from a musical band, several workshop presentations and a service project in which the youths packed about 50,000 service meals for needy families in Burkina Faso. The project was coordinated by Helping Hands and Catholic Relief Services, and sponsored by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation.
Luis Peña, inter-parochial coordinator of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese, was a workshop presenter. “Jesus wants you to win the battle,” Peña told teens, speaking about the importance of prayer and avoiding evil.
The band comprised musicians from throughout the archdiocese, organized by Gilbert Rodriguez, who is from Brooklyn. Its name for the day was Gilbert’s House Band, a group that rocked the house with loud and fast inspiring songs praising the Lord, as well as others with tender words and softer sounds of faith.
Sean King, 15, a parishioner of St. Aedan in Pearl River, was among the teens at New York Catholic Youth Day “It was wonderful that youth here in New York can help people in a country so far away (Burkina Faso),” Sean said. “There is so much need, and we’re really making a difference.”
Cynthia Psencik, director of archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, which sponsored New York Catholic Youth Day, cited Pope Francis’ call to young Catholics.
“As our Holy Father has said, being young is a gift, and when they use their youthfulness for good, it can totally transform the world. So we’re asking and encouraging them to speak up to God through prayer, and to use that inspiration to be disciples.”