High school students from across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend gathered at Bishop Luers High School, Fort Wayne, for a stateside World Youth Day conference Feb. 21-23. Throughout the weekend, the teens heard from a number of speakers, including Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades.
Several priests assisted in a healing service Friday evening. The service included the first of many opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation that weekend.
Father Andrew Budzinski celebrated Mass for the students Saturday morning, and shared the reason all Catholics have for daily joy.
“When I deserved death,” he said in the homily, “Jesus died so that I could live: and He is real — and He’s alive — and He wants you to live.”
The teens later selected from among four breakout sessions. In one, Bishop Dwenger High School theology teacher Jessica Hayes and student Anna Morris spoke about discerning the voice of God. In another session, Father Matthew Coonan related sports training to the spiritual life.
Sarah Swafford, a well-known Catholic relationship speaker, gave a talk on arising into true womanhood to the girls, while Nathaniel Binversie, the director of mission of Exodus 90, gave a similar talk to the boys. A team of youths who assisted in planning the eventful conference gave witness talks after each speaker.
During their free time, the youths painted peg dolls of saints and made cord rosaries with a few Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. They also had the opportunity to play basketball with visiting seminarians.
Bishop Rhoades gave the keynote speech Saturday evening. He began by noting that the theme for next year’s World Youth Day, as chosen by the Holy Father, is a Scripture verse about rising up. From the Acts of the Apostles, it is: “Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen” (Acts 26:16).
“And then in two years, we will celebrate the international World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, the culmination of the three years of preparation. … The theme is again about rising up. The theme for World Youth Day in 2022 comes from the Gospel of Luke about Mary rising up to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth. St. Luke says: “Mary arose and went with haste” (Luke 1:39). I invite all of you to think about going with our diocesan group and me to World Youth Day in Portugal in 2022,” he invited the students.
“Let’s listen in our hearts to Jesus saying to each of us personally: ‘Arise!’ He is inviting us to rise up by His grace to friendship with Him,” said the bishop. “He wants to have an intimate relationship with you and me. This begins with faith: believing in the Lord and in His love for us: for each of us personally. But how do you have a close, intimate, and personal relationship with Jesus?”
“As with any relationship,” he answered, “you must choose how close you want to be with someone. It’s a matter of choosing Jesus in faith, choosing to have Him as your best friend, choosing to converse with Him, to speak to Him about your life, your challenges, your hopes, your dreams, your struggles and your joys. And then to listen to Him speak to you in your heart and to experience His love, His compassion, His consolation, His forgiveness, His peace.”
After the bishop’s talk, teen leader Samuel Horine and emcee Jennifer Litchfield gave the students a presentation about adoration etiquette before they joined the bishop to worship the Lord in the exposed Eucharist.
Following benediction and the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the students gathered for a “birthday party,” rejoicing over their newly cleansed souls. The celebration included candy-filled piñatas for the teens to whack, as well as cake and refreshments. They also threw colorful streamers and balloons into the air in a show of joyful triumph over sin and darkness.
On Sunday, the teens enjoyed the presence of Bishop Rhoades again at Mass.
“It’s so hard to treat someone with kindness if they’ve hurt us, but Jesus abolishes the limits of love,” the bishop said during his homily.
“He abolishes the boundaries that limit our love when He says, ‘love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.’ And that’s what Jesus Himself did, didn’t He?”
“Think about what you’re going to do,” said the bishop, “what’s going to help you to be holier — and don’t be afraid to be ‘fools’ for Christ.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.