TEC ‘incredibly important,’ says bishop at evening with youth

Photo Caption: Bishop Jenky gets a Teens Encounter Christ “agape hug” from Tony Alwan, who gave a witness talk prior to a Peoria TEC question-and-answer session with the bishop on June 12.

By: By Tom Dermody

Telling young people “I hope you never stop letting Jesus win more of your heart,” Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, called Teens Encounter Christ “incredibly important” because the weekend retreat is a way to personally experience Christ and empowers teens to witness to their faith.

About 75 members of the Peoria TEC community also got to know Bishop Jenky more personally during a Mass and hourlong, laughter-filled informal exchange that followed at the Spalding Pastoral Center on June 12.

The bishop fielded 14 questions, ranging from “Do you ever wear street clothes?” (“If I’m by myself I really, truly look like a bum,” he told them) to his views on new Pope Francis.

“I think he’s charismatic,” said the bishop. “He is a gift to our church. I think at World Youth Day he’s going to set their hearts on fire.” Noting the pope’s roots in Argentina, he joked that “if we start having tangos at TECs, you’ll know why.”

The teens learned that Bishop Jenky goes to confession “at least every other week,” that in his spare time he loves to read, study history, watch sports, and enjoy the company of his two Chihuahuas — Monsignor and Vicar — and that he was chaplain of the University of Notre Dame football team during its national championship season in 1988.

“You might think it was the talent of that team” that earned it the national title, the bishop said, adding with a wry smile, “but I know it was my blessing.”

Most of the evening, however, was devoted to matters of faith.

At a Mass celebrated in the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, Bishop Jenky urged all TECites to read the Bible, even if just a couple of sentences a day. Again offering a glimpse into his personal life, the bishop shared a story of his relationship with his own father to make his point.

“When I went to college my Dad started writing me letters,” said the bishop. Prior to that, “we didn’t talk too much,” but through the letters “I got to know him as a person, as a man” and came to enjoy new friendship and intimacy.

“In many ways, the Scriptures are letters from God to us,” said Bishop Jenky. “If you know Scriptures, you already have the foundation to have a personal experience of Jesus Christ.”

Following the Mass, the bishop and teens heard witness talks from three persons who have had such an experience through TEC.

“I really experienced God the best way possible,” said Tony Alwan. Tori Contreras expressed gratitude to God “for putting TEC in my life,” while Beau Woodcock expressed the joy of “having all these wonderful, fantastic people around me to share my faith with.”

Bishop Jenky — seated next to Father Joseph Dondanville, TEC spiritual adviser — then invited questions. The teens had plenty.

“Did you always want to do this?” asked one girl. Bishop Jenky responded with his vocation story, starting with his upbringing in a very Catholic neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, where nuns in his grammar school repeatedly asked “Have you ever thought of being a priest?” He confessed to doubts during his preparation for the priesthood — “I packed up to leave at the novitiate four times” — but that he has found “enormous blessing” as a priest and bishop.

Zach Taylor wondered what it was like when Bishop Jenky “got all the flack” after a men’s march homily in 2012 that made national headlines during an election year.

The bishop acknowledged “I got a lot of hate mail” but he received much more support, adding that sometimes “it’s good to suffer for the faith.”

“I was preaching to my own flock and trying to fire up the troops about what was about to happen to our church and still could,” he told the teens. “If people got mad at me because I was defending our church and our faith, I say ‘Tough.'”

There were many light moments, such as when one teen asked if the bishop ever played golf. “Not with golfers,” said the bishop, adding that “I’m about as bad (at the game) as any human being can be” and that he hadn’t held a club since he became a bishop.

In the evening’s final question, Maddie Conley asked how teens can live out their Christian faith.

“The heart of Christianity is falling in love with God,” said the bishop, who challenged the teens to regularly pray and serve others. “That love will carry people to different things, get you through the rough times, and it makes all the good times indescribably good.”

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
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