300 at Youth Rally are urged to shine with the light of Christ

By: Story and photo by Jennifer Willems

Fired up by the knowledge that they are made in the image and likeness of God and have a “unique, unrepeatable, exclusive relationship with the Holy Trinity,” more than 200 young people were encouraged to let that light shine brightly for all to see at the 2013 Diocesan Youth Rally.

The teens were joined by their youth group leaders and chaperones at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria on Nov. 9 for talks by Damon Owens, executive director of the Theology of the Body Institute in Dowingtown, Pa., and Gina Bauer, a popular speaker at workshops, retreats and youth conferences around the country. There was also time to sing and dance to music by Station 12 from St. Jude Parish in Peoria, rousing games of “Simon Says” and “Bear, Hunter, Ninja,” and moments of quiet prayer and praise.

In the afternoon they walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral for eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation and joined parishioners for the regular 4 p.m. Saturday liturgy, which was celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC. He told them every Mass was a kind of rally “where God’s people assemble to worship and praise him, to thank him and give our lives over to the gift of his love.”

Speaking from the steps of the cathedral sanctuary, Bishop Jenky acknowledged that there might be times when they would be intimidated by their friends or face challenges at school and at home, but assured them they have nothing to fear.

“You have everything to live for and you have God’s promise that the One who made you and created you, who redeemed you, will love you forever,” he said. “There’s no greater gift than that.”

At the end of Mass he invited people to face the choir loft and thank the members of the St. Joseph Newman Center at Bradley University who provided musical leadership.

“If you don’t mind your bishop being bossy, when you get to college be sure to get active in campus ministry or your Newman Club. Promise me,” Bishop Jenky said to the Youth Rally participants.

As a sign of their desire to be the light of Christ for others, the teens carried lit candles from St. Mary’s Cathedral and walked back to the Spalding Pastoral Center.

A lot of information is available online, but not everything they see and hear is true, Damon Owens reminded his young listeners.

“It’s crucial now that you come to know where you can find what’s true,” he said. “I’m convinced, from my own experience, from my own kids, 20 years of traveling and speaking and what God has revealed that the source of truth, the place where you can find the fundamental, ironclad, airtight truth about creation and the Creator is through his Catholic Church.”

While the things they learn at youth rallies and religion classes are good, he said, they are only occasions for what really matters — an encounter with Jesus Christ.

“It doesn’t turn you into a freak,” he told them, eliciting laughter from the teens. “It actually gives you a peace, just like when you know that you know that you know something. It sets a fire. It’s as if you’ve put on new glasses and you’re able to see things that you looked at before but never really saw.”

One thing Owens asked them to look at carefully was how God had created them male and female as a way to understand who they are. He explained that through masculinity and femininity God was calling them to be in communion with him and one another and this is what they were made for.

“If we’re made in the image and likeness of God, then the more we come to know who we are the more the mystery is revealed about who God is,” he said. “The more we come to know who Christ is, the more he will reveal to us the fullness of who we are in his image and likeness.”

Part of being made in the image and likeness of God is having a choice and no one can take that away, Bauer said in talks that were filled with humor and stories of her own children and siblings.

“Each person is called to a unique, unrepeatable, exclusive relationship with the Holy Trinity. Each one of us has a part to play in this plan and our yes and our no make a difference,” she said.

“If you say yes to God people will go to heaven because of you and if you say no people will go to hell with you, did you know that,” Bauer asked them. “As Catholics we go together. We’re the body of Christ. We’re the church. We take people along or we lose them.”

God has “wired” people to be like him, to be more than everything they could want for themselves, she said. “It’s already there. That’s why, when you don’t live up to it or you sin you feel bad, because God has more for you.”

In separate talks to the young women and young men, Bauer and Owens reminded them of their dignity as children of God.

Bauer encouraged the girls to follow Mary’s example by trusting God, praying and bringing goodness into the world. Their future spouses need their prayers, too, she said.

Forgiveness is waiting for those who may have made mistakes, Bauer added, because God is a loving God.

Before the teens left for home that evening, Bauer reminded them that they were not too young to serve God, saying, “Every one of you can do something.”

“You have to shine with the light of Christ now — you can’t let it wait,” she emphasized.

Calling the Eucharist “a powerhouse of grace,” Bauer invited them to seek it out often, to pray and to forgive.

“Then you have to ask God to help you heal,” she said. “We have to be courageous.”

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