Two students from the archdiocese were awarded trips to this summer’s World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, during an event at the United Nations marking the International Year of Youth in which the Fernando Rielo Prize for Youth was awarded.
Samantha Lindsay of Preston High School in the Bronx was the high school winner of the Fernando Rielo Prize for Youth, named for the founder of the Idente Missionaries of Christ the Redeemer. John Garrish Jr. of Wagner College, Staten Island, won the college division. They were selected for submissions defending life. Contestants were asked to submit an essay, song or video on pro-life issues affecting young people today. An honorable mention prize was awarded to Alexandria Taliaferro, Academy of Mount St. Ursula, the Bronx.
The winners were announced June 3 at the event sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, the Path to Peace Foundation, the World Youth Parliament, the Fernando Rielo Foundation, Idente Youth International Association and the Rielo Institute for Integral Development.
Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, the Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, speaking to the 500 youths in attendance, said, “It gives me great joy that you responded to the invitation today.” He noted that the world body has been celebrating the United Nations International Year of Youth, which was named by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in August 2010.
The archbishop said there are now 1.2 billion young people ages 15-24 worldwide, making up 18 percent of the world’s population. “Young people can and should contribute to development,” he said emphatically.
The archbishop thanked the youths for their enthusiasm and said they “help the whole Church become stronger.” He noted that their presence at the United Nations highlighted the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who said the “Church is alive” and “the Church is young.” He also recognized the impact of the youth on the Church through events such as World Youth Day, to be held Aug. 16 to 21.
He urged the youths to take action in the social sphere and said that the pope is counting on their contributions to the world. He ended with a call for the young people to “venture forth” and proclaim their faith in their parishes, neighborhoods and schools. He said that they “can really make a difference in society.”
Panelists included two representatives of the Sisters of Life, Sister Maris Stella, S.V., and Sister Mariae Agnus Dei, S.V., who discussed the founding of the order and the work of the sisters in the pro-life movement. Michael Hannon, president of Columbia Catholic Ministry, discussed issues including morality and sex. Jesse Mojica, Bronx Borough President’s director of education policy, movingly told of how his life was changed by his son’s special needs. Young people also gave testimonies on life issues including adoption, mental health issues, the World Youth Alliance, and Idente Youth and World Youth Parliament. Singer and musician Jose Feliciano provided entertainment in both Spanish and English.
Stephanie Davila, 21, of Santa Maria parish in the Bronx, told CNY how important it is for youths and young adults to become involved in the pro-life movement. “It only takes one person or one group of people to start the movement,” she said, noting that she wanted to “come for the voices not being heard.” With her was Claudia Grizales, 20, also of Santa Maria, who added, “The media portrays young people as being very pro-choice. We are here to show there are different points of view.”
Another parishioner of Santa Maria, Allison Masserano, 21, who also served as one of the youth speakers, told CNY, “I think it’s important for us to be here because if young people aren’t involved in the conversation, then a lot of assumptions are made about what we think. If they’re incorrect, it can affect the future.”
She said, “I think it’s especially important for young people to give a witness that we are pro-life.”
That sentiment was shared by many of the participants, like Venecia Gil-Checo, 20, of St. Dominic’s in the Bronx, who said, “I think it’s really important that people know we aren’t apathetic about this issue.” Noting the number of youths present, she said, “I think it’s very powerful and shows the leaders of today that it’s not going to be so easy to bend the rules, and our opinion has to be considered in the discussion.”
Chris Oravetz, 26, a student at the Theological Institute for New Evangelization in Boston, traveled from there for the event. “Television and movies can lead the youth astray,” he said. “Conferences like this give them confidence that we are not alone.” He said the conference allows youths to “come together as Catholics and to share our voice to the United Nations as a whole and engage them in dialogue.” He hopes that through the conference youths can begin to come together to affect the general public and to “gain enthusiasm as lay people in sharing our faith in the public sphere.”
“To be Catholic is a whole different way of thinking,” he said. “It’s not just a part of our lives, it should be the center of our lives. It should inform everything else.”