Faithful Young Adults Find Nighttime Summer Fun in Church Courtyard

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As the early evening sun recently cloaked the steeple atop Immaculate Conception Church on Manhattan’s East 14th Street, festive string lights illuminated the spacious garden courtyard below filled with faithful young adults of the archdiocese.

They gathered July 9 to hear a talk titled “Living an Integrated Life—The Only Path to Holiness and Happiness That Works,” by clinical psychologist and author Dr. Gregory Bottaro.

The evening of fellowship, billed “Love & Responsibility Week 3,” was part of a summer series sponsored by the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult Outreach, which serves young professionals in the archdiocese and connects them to ministries, resources, events and people.

“Love & Responsibility” refers to the future St. John Paul II’s book on human love by the same name.

“The Love & Responsibility series has really become a favorite summer event of mine,” said Lauren Sawyer, 26, a member of St. Paul the Apostle parish in Manhattan who serves as the liaison to the archdiocese for her parish’s young adult group, Apostolist.

“I always walk away filled up—whether it’s from the speakers, the live music or the friends that I see or the new friends that I make. It’s a really life-giving event.”

Ms. Sawyer, a media production coordinator, observed “the authenticity of the people” at the venue “is really unique and attractive. I appreciate meeting friends who will encourage me to grow in my faith and walk that journey with me.”

Bottaro, 38, is the founder and director of the Catholic Psych Institute. He is also the author of “The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment at a Time.” He and his wife Barbra co-authored “Sitting Like a Saint: Catholic Mindfulness for Kids.” The Bottaros and their five young children belong to the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Conn.

“Happiness and holiness are meant to go together,” Bottaro told the young adult audience. He challenged them to ask themselves if they were truly happy at the deepest core of their being, “that you feel like you are walking the streets with freedom, that you know who you are, that you have your identity, that you walk around this world like you know your God is the king of the universe and you are His son or daughter. That you don’t look in a mirror and feel bad about yourself, about what your body looks like, you don’t judge yourself because of your relationship status, or what people think about you because of what you wear.

“Freedom,” he added, “is happiness and holiness together.”

Before and after Bottaro’s talk, singer/songwriter Mike Mangione, 40, a Catholic who lives in Milwaukee with his wife and their three young children, performed three songs with a guitar and harmonica.

Mike Wutkowski, 26, a member of nearby St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church, has been a regular at the summer series now for a third year. “I like the structure with the talks,” said Wutkowski, who is a clinical lab technologist. “It kind of works your way through the steps of relationships. Some people are in relationships, some people maybe have just left relationships. I’ve been here at times where I’ve been single, dating and broken up. This has a different impact on you throughout different times.”

A contingent of the Sisters of Life brought to Love & Responsibility some of the young mothers and children they serve. “It’s a gift to be able to just allow them to see the beauty of what the Church’s teaching is, and how the truth is very attractive,” said Sister Pia Jude, S.V., assistant director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Office.

“They can see that the young adult Catholic scene is actually thriving, and there are people in New York that are striving to practice their faith.”

Sister Pia Jude hoped those entrusted to the sisters’ care would bring home “whatever God wants them to take away from the night. God has a message for them here tonight and we hope it can plant a seed and then they can be inspired by it.”

Along with the sacrament of reconciliation—eight priests were available to hear confessions—many young adults also made time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament indoors, in the church’s adoration chapel.

The reverent silence there contrasted with a DJ’s amplified dance music outdoors that closed out the night.

CNY caught up with two young adults who had been salsa dancing. “I’m liking the music, I’m liking the beat,” said Red Isidoro, a member of Holy Trinity parish in Manhattan. He appreciated the convenient location since he works in sales two blocks from Immaculate Conception Church. “I’m enjoying the night.”

Also enjoying the beat was Caterine Sanchez, 33, a Protestant who attends St. Malachy’s parish in Manhattan. “It’s a fun way to connect, it’s great exercise,” said Ms. Sanchez, a fashion designer who has her own eponymous clothing line.

“Dance is very life-giving and joyful. I like the kind of balance it gives.”

Ms. Sanchez appreciated seeing a number of CFRs (Franciscan Friars of the Renewal), as she regularly volunteers in the soup kitchen at their St. Joseph’s Friary in Manhattan.

Colin Nykaza, director of Young Adult Outreach, told CNY as he was stacking chairs as the gathering came to a close that his hope, through all the Love & Responsibility gatherings, is that those attending experience “a powerful, loving encounter with Jesus Christ, through Our Lady.”

The remaining Love & Responsibility gatherings, which begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Immaculate Conception courtyard, are: Tuesday, July 23, Matt Fradd, whose talk is “Counterfeit Love in a Digital Age,” with guest musician John Paul Von Arx; Wedneday, July 31, Jason Evert with guest musician Sarah Kroger, and a bilingual session on Tuesday, Aug. 13, with Father Agustino Torres, C.F.R., and guest musicians Si7.

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