PUNTA GORDA | Put 2,000 Catholic teens together for a day, add motivational speakers and music, and the results were inspiring, as Diocesan youth were spiritually enriched to open themselves to the call of the Lord during the 2017 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally.
At the Rally, the youth were surprised by a very special guest — Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who is the pope’s representative in the United States. Inspiring the youth with his words, Archbishop Pierre told them they are not the future of the Church, as many describe young people, but they are in fact the now, the new St. Peter, the rock and the foundation that will keep the Church alive and well by spreading the message of love from Jesus throughout the world.
“How are you answering the call from Jesus Christ?” Archbishop Pierre asked. “St. Peter was asked to build the Church, to be the stone, the foundation. Are you a stone? Are you Miss Stone? Are you Mr. Stone? With your help, we are building the Church on many stones like you.”
The 2017 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally was held Nov. 4 at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Convention Center in Punta Gorda, and the theme was “Magnify,” which was inspired by the call of Pope Francis for everyone to magnify the light of Christ in the world to others.
“Awesome!” “Great!” “Overwhelming!” “Incredible!” “Awe-inspiring!” “Powerful!” These were just some of the reactions the youth had throughout the day. The expectations for the annual Rally have been raised since the first one in 2008, and the numbers have increased yearly, nearly reaching the capacity of the current venue.
“It is so great to be surrounded by people who are like me, loving the Lord with all of my heart,” said one young woman from Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers. “This has been an emotional day, but in such a great way. I can’t wait to tell my friends. We have to register now for next year. That’s how excited I am.”
The motivational talks, the fun music, Eucharistic Adoration, a half-mile Eucharistic procession through the streets of Punta Gorda — blocking traffic as everyone recited the rosary — to the closing Mass at an overflowing Sacred Heart Church built everyone up to a crescendo that overwhelmed some.
“I haven’t cried like this in a long time,” said one young woman from St. Agnes Parish in Naples. “I have a lot of things going on in my life — family, school, friends — and everything seemed to be out of control. I know it really isn’t. I know I have a friend who will stand by me no matter what: Jesus. He won’t judge me, He won’t criticize me, He forgives. I really needed that and I got that today.”
At the start of the day, Bishop Frank J. Dewane asked the youth to open their hearts and minds while listening closely to what the Lord is asking of them. When the day concluded, the Bishop said he was inspired by their response to the Rally, knowing that many lives were changed.
“We’ve had this time to be together and we know that the Lord was ever present with us as the day progressed,” Bishop Dewane said. “It is inspirational to see the response of the young people to the Lord. It is my prayer that you go forward from today, carrying the Lord with you as a companion in your life. Magnify the love the Lord has for you and share that with the world.”
The youth also heard from acclaimed speakers Paul J. Kim and Sarah Swafford, who both offered advice on how to cope with a world full of distractions that pull them in many different directions, both physically and emotionally, while keeping their foundation in Jesus Christ.
“We are called, at the invitation of Jesus Christ, to serve, not to be served,” Kim explained. “You need to respond to this call in every way you can.”
One of the ways both Kim and Swafford encouraged the teens to respond is by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which was available throughout the day. “We carry a lot of baggage,” Swafford said. “We carry so much inside of us, but Jesus Christ wants to unload that burden, because He loves us. He wants to carry that burden for us.”
Kim and Swafford also answered questions together about how to be a man or woman of God when dealing with others, family, friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends. While the youth were hesitant to ask questions that were too personal, the ones that were asked cut to the heart of the issue: How do you know when you are using someone or are being used? The simple answer to this complicated question was to ask a different question: Where is the Lord in this relationship?
At the start of the day and toward the end of the Rally, the Ike Ndolo Band performed inspirational music that got the youth excited, allowing them to express themselves in a particular way, screaming for joy and sharing an experience of encouragement as a group.
A particularly poignant moment of the day was during the vocations talk when, after being encouraged to think about a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, the youth who have thought about it were called forward. The response was inspiring, as more than 100 youth accepted that challenge to be a witness for vocations.
Archbishop Pierre expressed his joy at seeing so many young people who are thinking about answering this important call. “Keep this idea in your heart and keep asking yourself the question: What is God calling me to do? Am I called to a vocation? Whether you are called to this life or you are called to take another path, you must keep your heart open to the Lord,” he said. “He is talking to you. Are you listening?”