Whoa! Diocesan Youth Rally crowd marvels at God’s love

By: Text and photo by Tom Dermody

Caption: The 460 attendees at the Diocesan Youth Rally lock arms in unity as members of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist join the local Catholic band Station 12 on stage for a song. (Nearly 30 more photos from the rally have been posted to an album on The Catholic Post’s Facebook page.)


The repeated, amazed expressions of “Whoa!” coming from more than 400 Catholic teenagers who gathered in Peoria Nov. 22 were not inspired by the latest high-tech gadget or the appearance of a movie celebrity or sports hero.

The source of the wonderment? Some basic teachings of the Catholic faith.

“We’re gonna give God the ‘whoa’ he deserves,” said Chris Stefanick, a keynote speaker at the 2014 Diocesan Youth Rally. And the young Catholics and their chaperones who packed the spacious conference rooms of the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria enthusiastically obliged throughout the all-day event.

Stefanick — a musician, author, and dynamic speaker from the Archdiocese of Denver who would later offer the teens
seven tips to deepen their relationship with Jesus
warned the crowd against taking God for granted.

“No matter how amazing something is, as we get used to it, we take it for granted,” said Stefanick, citing cellphones and air flight as just two examples.

“We put God in that category of stuff we’re used to,” he added. “You grew up with him. You’re used to him.”

But God’s love “is too profound to get used to,” said Stefanick. Using a combination of humor and awe-inspiring teaching, he described the plentiful evidence of God in the wonders of creation, the depth of God’s love for each of us, and the heroic witness of the saints — stopping after each example to ask for a collective, reverent “whoa!”

Later in the day Stefanick offered the teens

The size of this year’s rally was cause for a celebratory “whoa” from organizers at the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Family Life. The 460 total attendees was a major increase over last year’s 200, and was buoyed by the presence of many eighth-graders — most preparing for confirmation — who were welcomed to join high schoolers at this year’s rally. Also new in 2014 was a pre-rally evening to train Teen Missionary Disciples. (See related story here.)

The youth were kept busy and focused throughout a high-energy day designed around the theme “Way, Truth and Life.” Among the highlights:

— Presentations by chastity speaker Megan Mastroianni on the sacredness of our bodies. While culture portrays our bodies as mere objects, they actually “proclaim who you are . . . and who God is. He is in you, and you are in Him,” said Mastroianni.

— Praise music by the local Catholic band Station 12

— A vocations talk by Msgr. Brian Brownsey after which dozens of attendees expressed interest in the priesthood or religious life, coming forward to stand with the many priests and religious in attendance

— A candlelight procession to St. Mary’s Cathedral for a closing Mass with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, that ended with veneration of the visiting United Nations International Statue of Our Lady of Fatima and accompanying relics of Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta Marto. (See related stories here.)

At the closing Mass, homilist Father Chase Hilgenbrinck picked up on the “whoa” theme introduced by Stefanick.

“You know what should make us say ‘Whoa’?” asked Father Hilgenbrinck, parochial vicar at St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island as well as St. Mary and St. Anne parishes, East Moline. “That the same God who created the universe, who made man and woman in his own image and likeness, almighty God, King of the Universe . . . he wants a personal relationship with each one of us. He yearns for your heart. He wants us. It’s almost scandalous.”

Father Hilgenbrinck, who serves on the chaplain team of Alleman High School, urged the teens to “find God’s purpose for your life” and make God king of their hearts.

“Truth is not invented,” he told them repeatedly. “Truth is discovered,” and the fullness of the truth of Jesus Christ is found in the Catholic Church.

The truth of Catholic teaching on sexuality was delivered by Mastroianni, a campus minister at an all-girls high school in Baltimore who travels throughout the U.S. educating youth on pro-life and chastity messages.
Introducing the teens to the “Theology of the Body” taught by St. John Paul II, Mastroianni reminded that we are “children of God.”

“There is no other person in the world who is you,” she told the group. “No one has your body or your soul.” She contrasted love with lust, which sees the body only for its “parts” and not the whole person.

In the afternoon, the crowd divided into smaller groups of high school boys, girls, and eighth-graders for further specific teaching.

In the first of his two keynote talks, Stefanick challenged “tamed” and “boring” images of Jesus promoted in today’s culture.

“Guys, Jesus scared people,” said Stefanick. “He did crazy stuff like say “Get up!” to dead guys and they got up.” When we spend time in daily prayer with him, Jesus should make us uncomfortable as he challenges us to greater love — and true happiness.

“We live in an era where people are forgetting their way, forgetting their true identity,” said Stefanick. “They’ve forgotten ‘whoa.’ The reminder God sends to the world is saints. It’s you. God’s reminder is you.”

Coordinating the event were Craig Dyke and Shirley Plaag of the Office of Evangelization and Family Life.

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