The PJ Anderson Band performs Nov. 4 in Punta Gorda during the 2018 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally. (BOB REDDY | FC)

Youth Rally unifies nearly 1,900

Punta Gorda | Young men and women of God gathered together Nov. 3 for the 2018 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally in Punta Gorda to learn what it means to “Be Courageous” witnesses to the faith.
This theme of being courageous permeated through the Youth Rally which offered the approximately 1,900 youth the tools to carry forward in their lives by being reminded that they are important, loved and a necessary part of the Church today.

Filled with talks, music, adoration and a Eucharistic procession, the lessons learned throughout the day were reinforced in the closing Mass — the way to become courageous is through growing in your relationship with the Lord.

“What an amazing day,” said first-time Rally attendee Jasmin Sanchez of Holy Cross Parish in Palmetto. “I got so much more out of it than what I expected. The speakers, the music, just being with so many teenagers from the Diocese in one place impacted more than I thought it would.”

Fellow Holy Cross parishioner Erick Ramirez had attended two previous Diocesan Youth Rallies, but still enjoyed the whole day, specifically liking the messages and lessons about how to become a more courageous Catholic. “It is a great day for everyone. All Catholic teens should be here,” he said.
A group from St. Raphael Parish in Lehigh Acres noted that the Rally was better than other Catholic youth gatherings that they go to. They stressed the best part is being among fellow youth from across the Diocese.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane began the day with words of encouragement for the youth, telling them that the Rally was for them because he views them all as a blessing to the Church and wants them to become ever more inspired as they hear the word of Jesus Christ.

“This is truly a spiritual time in which you must allow the Lord into your heart,” Bishop Dewane said. “You must be changed by this day; every time you encounter the Lord, you have to change and grow.”
The Bishop celebrated the closing Mass at nearby Sacred Heart Church, following a public Eucharistic procession through the streets of downtown Punta Gorda.

During the Mass, the Bishop stressed that he understood that the youth of today must be courageous in their lives in many ways. By their presence at the Rally, they have already shown courage. However, they must carry that courage beyond the four walls of the Church where it is not difficult to live as the Lord calls.

“Now you have to do it,” Bishop Dewane said at Mass. “You have to go forward and be courageous in your relationship with the Lord and be honest in that relationship. It means you are at Mass on Sunday; it means you are living the Ten Commandments; it means you live the light of the Lord by your actions.”

When asked, all the youth raised their hands to say they wanted Christ as their friend. The Bishop said that as in life with their own friend, the best way to build a friendship with the Lord is through communication: prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“Don’t take Christ for granted in your life,” the Bishop continued. “Put all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength before the Lord. You are made in the image and likeness of God. Never forget that! Be the person who is strong in your relationship with Jesus Christ, always loving God and loving your neighbor.”

Bishop Dewane encouraged the teens to take advantage of the time you spent with the Lord during the Rally. “Bring what you learned forward in life, giving you courage to be more the man/woman of God you are called to be.”

The Youth Rally, which included young people from eighth through 12th grade, included talks from Jared Zimmerer and Mari Pablo as well as music from the PJ Anderson Band.

Zimmerer, a competitive bodybuilder, author, speaker, blogger and Director of the Word of Fire Institute, spoke about his personal struggle to remain faithful while overcoming physical and spiritual challenges throughout his life.

Pablo, a theology teacher who worked on the Theology of the Body program for teens, spoke about the need to put God first and that everything in life will follow. She shared stories of personal loss and how the spiritual strength she holds within gives her the courage to stand as a strong woman of God.

The young men and women were spilt up for a time to hear specific messages directed toward them from Zimmerer and Pablo. During those sessions, the youth also heard about how to listen to God’s call, particularly when it comes to a vocation to which they might be called to. This is whether as a priest, religious, married or single.

Father Shawn Roser, who was ordained in July and is Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton, spoke to the men about his vocations journey. Also present for the Rally were 12 Diocesan seminarians. Sister Peace Villanueva, Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara, of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, spoke to the women. Religious women from several parishes were there for the Rally.

Christian rock musician PJ Anderson performed throughout the day. A Catholic performer who is ranked No. 7 in the iTunes Christian/Gospel playlist, Anderson helped to get the youth motivated at the start of the day and inspired them with a variety of songs later in the day.

The first Youth Rally was held in 2008 at the encouragement of Bishop Dewane and it has become so popular that the annual event has outgrown four previous venues. Organized by the Office of Evangelization and Office of Youth and Young Adults, planning for the 2019 Diocese of Venice Youth Rally is already taking place. See you all next year.