PUNTA GORDA | “Powerful!” “Awesome!” “The best!” “Inspiring!” “Perfect!” “Moving!” “Overwhelming!” “Emotional!” “Prayerful!” “Memorable!”
These were just some of the comments from the approximately 1,900 young people who attended the 2016 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally Nov. 5, at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. The day was filled with spiritual enrichment and Diocesan solidarity as the youth represented their parishes with enthusiasm and open-mindedness to the call the Lord has for each of them.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane expressed how overjoyed he was by the rally that has become the annual central spiritual moment for the youth of the Diocese. “Young people are hungry for Jesus, and to see them growing in their faith while having fun with so many other young people from the Diocese is a joy,” the Bishop said. “It is easy to be inspired by their enthusiasm.”
The 2016 Diocesan Youth Rally included young people from grades seven through 12, representing nearly 50 Parishes in the Diocese. Throughout the day the youth were challenged to rethink their relationship with Christ and encouraged to have the Lord become a central part of who they are as young men and women. A large number of the participants also received the Sacrament of Confession, which was made available throughout the event.
Highlights of the day included inspirational music, games, a chance for fresh air along the Peace River and lots of opportunities to take photos and selfies with Bishop Dewane. There were also displays from religious orders, Respect Life, Peace and Justice, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat Center, and a Vocations table staffed by Diocesan seminarians.
The signature moment of the Youth Rally was the Eucharistic Procession of more than a half-mile stretch through downtown Punta Gorda to Sacred Heart Parishwhere the Mass was celebrated. Reciting the rosary, the throng of youth followed close, fanning out to cover the two-lane street and the sidewalks.
During the Mass, Bishop Dewane encouraged the youth to take the hard lessons they learned throughout the day, because he personally knows they “truly are worthy of the call of Jesus Christ. It is how you respond to that call that will guide you and define the men and women of God I know you to be.”
It is not about someone else being worthy and responding; the responsibility is each of theirs, the Bishop added. “You have to become more through the grace of God. To overcome that temptation to do something that takes you farther from the Lord, you have to become more and listen to the call of the Lord in your life. I know you can do it, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Take what have you learned this day and be changed by this experience.”
The Youth Rally included an exciting lineup of speakers and musicians, talking about topics of faith and putting Christ in the forefront of their lives. Directed talks were given separately to the boys and girls.
Lisa Cotter, an expert on the topics of relationships, femininity, and living life with excellence while balancing one’s faith, spoke about how each person is made to magnify the love God bestows. Cotter challenged the youth to realize they are worthy of God’s love. Most importantly, no matter what they may have done in the past, God has forgiven them.
“The past has shaped who you are today, but it does not need to define who you will be for the rest of your life,” Cotter said.
Chris Padgett, a speaker, musician, and author who has traveled the country for more than a decade communicating Christ’s love and forgiveness, echoed Cotter’s theme, asking the youth “How is it possible to be worthy of the call if you are a sinner? If you are so broken? We are impacted by our past, but we don’t have to be trapped by it.”
If they dare to make the leap of faith of wanting in their life what God wants, Padgett said, “It’s going to happen.”
Justin Fatica is a speaker and co-founder of the Hard as Nails Ministry who shares the beauty of Christ’s love. He also challenged the youth to pray more in a committed way. “Put yourself on the line for God. In the real world it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you; it only matters what God thinks.”
The Josh Blakesley Band performed inspirational music for the youth during the day and at the concluding Mass at Sacred Heart Parish.
The Youth Rally began in 2008 as a regional event at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, and became a Diocesewide event in 2009 with an enthusiastic crowd of more than 500 young people at St. Columbkille Parish in Fort Myers. Since then, the Youth Rally has outgrown all Diocesan facilities, gaining more attention and offering inspirational speakers and musicians to more and more youth.