Youth rallies introduce teens to ‘most amazing person ever’

Photo Caption: Helen Moore, Michaela Crowe and Julia Prushinski of St. Louis Parish in Princeton demonstrate motions to a song sung by Bob Rice at the first-ever Diocesan Junior High Youth Rally on Nov. 4 in Peoria.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Nearly 200 teens from around the diocese traveled to Peoria last weekend to get better acquainted with “the most exciting, amazing, incredible, wonderful, dynamic person who ever walked the face of the earth ever, ever, ever, ever, ever.”

It wasn’t Bob Rice or Leah Darrow, although both keynote speakers had dynamic stories of faith to share at the Diocese of Peoria’s 2012 Youth Rally on Nov. 3 and first-ever Junior High Youth Rally on Nov. 4. It wasn’t even Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who celebrated Mass for the high school youth on Saturday night.

“More books have been written about Jesus than in all of human history,” said Rice, a professor of catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. “More songs have been written. More buildings have been built in the name of Jesus and his followers than anyone else.”
He added that we have a concept of time and history because Jesus lived. Tagging a year as A.D. means “anno Domini” or “in the year of our Lord.”

“The world was significantly impacted when God became man and dwelt among us,” Rice told the students who gathered at the Spalding Pastoral Center.

The musician and author — who also has 10 years of experience as a youth minister — used his guitar and abundant sense of humor to assure the 100 high school students and 175 junior high youth that Jesus didn’t want them to give up who they are, but rather to “have life and have it to the full.”

Sometimes people don’t understand how significant the love of Jesus is because they aren’t aware of how awesome Jesus is, according to Rice.
“We hear about Jesus all the time, but we don’t take the time to try to get to know who Jesus is,” he said, explaining that the best way to do that is to read the Gospels.

Others get comfortable with Jesus and forget the immense gift of God taking flesh and living among us, Rice said. “If you’re not impressed with the person you’re not going to be impressed with the invitation.”

He asked them to consider which celebrity they would most like to meet and spend time with, and then offered them a more amazing thought.

“The God of the universe — the God of the universe — is inviting you into a relationship with him because he loves you so much,” Rice said. “The God who created everything about us, who created you and me, wants to be close to us. He wants a response of faith, a response of love. If we say yes to who he really is, we say yes to who we really are.”

During her witness story, Darrow discussed the consequences of not doing that.

Born in Oklahoma and raised in a good Catholic family, Darrow said they prayed the rosary every night. When they moved to St. Louis and she entered high school, however, her faith journey veered off course.

Boy crazy and desperate to be popular, she chose “imitation love” over real love and lost her virginity after prom. Darrow admitted that her relationships with men were unhealthy and she didn’t understand chastity and modesty or embrace them as virtues.

After graduating with a degree in psychology from the University of Missouri at St. Louis, she auditioned for “America’s Next Top Model” and became one of 14 finalists in the third season. She was eventually eliminated from the reality TV show, which had access to every moment of every day — including showering, sleeping and eating.

Darrow went on to model professionally and thought she had it all, but was continuing her “slow fade” from faith.

“Every single time I came home from that party or wherever I was I would sit there and think, ‘OK, what else now? What else? I know I’ve gotta do something else.’ I was never satisfied,” she told the students.

“That’s the funny thing. We all want happiness,” she said. “You have an infinite desire for happiness, infinite. The only thing that’s infinite is God. He’s the only one who can fulfill your desire for happiness. I didn’t get that.”

What Darrow did get was a photo shoot for an international magazine that would take her to the next level of her profession. But her growing discomfort with her lifestyle and posing in clothing that revealed too much skin and too little of her dignity as a child of God came to a head during that assignment, and she walked away from modeling.

She called her father, who drove from St. Louis to New York to bring her home — by way of the confessional.

“I realized at that point that I had made this man right here on the cross a nobody,” Darrow said of Jesus. “He died for you. He loves you. Sometimes we have to admit, like I did, that we make him a nobody. I put him dead last. I didn’t want that anymore.”

Now she travels the country talking about chastity, modesty and God’s love, and is working on a master’s degree in theology.

Saying that the sacrament of reconciliation is filled with grace, she urged the young people to go to confession and Mass often. She added that while Jesus came to take away our sins, he didn’t take away our brains and encouraged them to learn everything they could so they can tell people why they’re Catholic.

“The mission I want to give you is go out and evangelize. You can evangelize,” Darrow said. “Does it matter how young you are, how old you are? We can all evangelize the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Christ.”
She reminded them that St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be you set the world on fire.”

“I pray that we all can set the world on fire in who we are and in who we want to be,” Darrow said.

While the rallies were filled with serious discussions of faith and offered time for reflection, eucharistic adoration and prayer, there was time for games like “Simon Says” and a scavenger hunt. The high school students were treated to a concert by Paul Vogrinc and his band from Rockford, who also led the praise and worship music throughout the day and at Mass on Saturday evening.

During his homily, Bishop Jenky said it was important to take time to do what they had been doing all day — “simply be quiet in the presence of God, to listen to that voice in your soul that sometimes speaks softly but speaks the truth.”

“My prayer for all of you at this rally, my prayer for all of you in your lives, is that you always hear God, are never deaf to his word, and that you love him,” Bishop Jenky said, “and because of the love he has for you and you have for God, that you love one another.”

Many of the junior high students who attended the rally on Sunday came as part of their preparation for confirmation. Rice asked them to remember that “you’re not just learning a subject. You’re learning about a person.”

“You’re learning about how to fall in love, how to get to know a God who revealed himself to us,” Rice said. “That only happens if God is knocking on the door and you open up the door and say, ‘Yes. Here I am. Let’s do it. I want you in my life. I want to know who you really are, and I want you to show me who I really am, too.'”

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