Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, hosted a stateside World Youth Day celebration this past weekend, Feb. 8-9. Teens from all corners of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend turned out for the event, which included witness from those who participated in World Youth Day in Panama as well as praise and worship music performed by Ohio band 2+OneOne. The conference reflected a similar structure to World Youth Day in Panama in that it was based around the theme of Mary’s fiat, or “yes” to God’s will for her to become the mother of the Messiah.
During the first session of the conference, Father Daniel Scheidt talked about his experiences with vocation discernment. Among the stories he shared was one about World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, which he thought would be his last time making that pilgrimage. He said he had such a good experience there, that he did not want to attend another because it would not live up to the experience he had there. However, a few years later, then-Bishop John M. D’Arcy instructed him to attend World Youth Day again, with some teens. There, he met a used-Toyota salesman named Ben. The two talked about vocations throughout the pilgrimage, and by the end of World Youth Day, Ben decided to enter the seminary. Father Scheidt revealed that the young man was none other than Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp, pastor of St. Louis, Besançon Parish, New Haven. Father Scheidt said that the Lord knew his World Youth Day Toronto experience of many years before was part of Father Muhlenkamp’s preparation to become a priest. He drew a parallel with the Virgin Mary, saying that, she, similarly, lived each mystery without knowing all the details of what was to happen; yet she trusted God’s will. Following Father Scheidt, Father Thomas Shoemaker enumerated several saints who at first, probably did not know God’s will for them, but who through prayer discerned God’s plan for their lives. After celebrating Mass, followed by more praise and worship, the teens prayed the night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours before heading to sleep.
The next day, teens heard witness from pilgrims who traveled to Panama for the World Youth Day celebration with Pope Francis. They not only told stories about the beauty of Panama City, but they also talked about the faith-scope of the pilgrimage. Between speakers, conference emcee and World Youth Day pilgrim Jennifer Litchfield would lead her fellow teens in various Catholic chants she heard on the pilgrimage, and they repeated enthusiastically.
After meeting in small groups to discuss what they took from the teen witnesses, the participants celebrated Mass with Father Royce Gregerson. During his homily, Father Gregerson told them that Jesus wants them to think of prayer as an “invitation” rather than an “obligation.” Drawing a parallel with the Apostles whom Jesus brought to a deserted place to pray, he said this is what the teens were doing by participating in the conference: taking themselves away from the distractions of everyday life to focus on God.
Father Gregerson finished by saying that God “delights” when we ask for things, but that they should not make that their only conversation with God. Prayer should instead focus on “resting with Jesus.” By practicing these three aspects of prayer, he noted, Mary was able to say “yes” to God.
Throughout the weekend the sacrament of confession was available, as was first-hand advice on vocational discernment. Seminarians, priests, married couples and the Sisters of Divine Mercy were available to help participants understand and discern their own vocation in hopes that one day, like the Virgin Mary, they will say “Yes!” to God’s will for their lives.
Later, teens listened to a talk from Dr. Timothy O’Malley about how people tend to “become what they behold.” Dr. O’Malley talked about how if people “behold” vices, which, he says, social media amplifies, then they do not become what God intended. However, if they behold God, Jesus — the right things — then they become what God intended.
Following numerous other speakers, including Msgr. William Schooler, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades spoke on the beauty of adoration. He said that, as Catholics, “We also have the wonderful opportunity to contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist in eucharistic adoration.”
“Adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies what has taken place at Mass,” he continued. “We can be nourished with His peace and love when we adore Him who is present in the Sacred Host.”
Following his talk, Bishop Rhoades led the teens in a holy hour with exposition of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
On Sunday, the teens listened to a talk from Sister Veritas. She told them they need to know themselves, before they could give themselves to a vocation. She finished by saying that they needed to “be real with Jesus.” She said God does not want “scripted talk,” but that he wants the teens to talk to Him “like a friend.”
Bishop Rhoades closed the weekend by celebrating Sunday Mass with the teens. In his homily he touched again on the central message of the weekend.
“It was when I was praying in front of the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Mount St. Mary’s in Maryland, where I was a college student, that I heard the call to be a priest. No angel appeared to me. No seraphim came down and touched my lips with an ember. But I believe that through the intercession of Mary, the Lord put into my heart a tremendous peace and serenity about entering the seminary to pursue a priestly vocation.” He advised the teens, “Don’t be too anxious about it. Just pray. Be open. Allow the Lord to speak to your heart.”
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