By Father Nicholas Desimone | Special to The Catholic Free Press
On Sunday, Nov. 13 New Evangelization Worcester for Youth & Young Adults (NEW) hosted its annual event for high school students from parishes throughout the diocese at St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic High School in Worcester. Nearly 500 young people gathered for prayer, worship, and two keynote addresses by Oscar Rivera, who is a nationally known speaker, Catholic hip-hop artist, and director of religious education and youth minister at St. Matthew Church in Virginia Beach, Va. Mr. Rivera formerly served as middle-school youth minister at St. Joseph Parish in Charlton.
There were also periods of praise and worship led by Mike McDuffy and a witness talk given by Aimee St. Germain, a graduate of WPI, who recently completed a year serving as a missionary with Life Teen at Camp Covecrest in Georgia.
The event concluded with Mass offered by Father Jonathan Slavinskas who is the administrator of Our Lady of Providence Parish in Worcester and the newly named vocations recruiter for the Diocese of Worcester.
The theme for this year’s event was “Make Your Mark” and was inspired by Pope Francis’ message at last summer’s World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland.
“We didn’t come into this world to ‘vegetate,’ to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on,” Pope Francis said. “No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark.”
Pope Francis challenged all young people not to become couch potatoes but instead reminded them that the world today demands that they become the protagonists of history, “because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark.”
Echoing Pope Francis’ message to young people, Mr. Rivera encouraged them to not simply be a part of history, but to make history. He related his message to the real-life story of Desmond Doss who served as a corporal during World War II in Japan and is now the subject of the film “Hacksaw Ridge.” As a conscientious objector he refused to touch any weapon but instead served his country as a combat medic. Numerous times during the war Doss demonstrated extraordinary bravery and heroism as he rescued 75 soldiers from the battlefield at great personal risk to himself, each time asking God for the strength to save “just one more.”
Mr. Rivera pointed to Doss as an example of someone who wasn’t merely a part of history, but someone who made history, being the first conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor. Mr. Rivera reminded the audience that ultimately, “Making your mark is not about you. It’s about everyone else.”
In his homily during Mass Father Slavinskas challenged the young people to make the choice every day to imitate Jesus in their lives.
“Before you get out of bed in the morning,” he said, “choose to be an imitator of Jesus Christ and not the world.” Father Slavinskas acknowledged that the world proposes certain values for teens to follow but Christians are called not to be imitators of the world, but of God.
The event was well received even though there were many young people there who were required to attend as part of their preparation for receiving the sacrament of confirmation this year.
Father Nicholas Desimone, the pastor of St. Mary Church in Uxbridge and interim director for NEW, reminded the young people in attendance that “sometimes we do things we don’t want to do for the people we love, and that might include participating in the diocesan youth day for Jesus.”
Hayden Wildes, a teenager from Sacred Heart Parish in Webster, said, “It was not as boring as I thought it was going to be.” Bernadette Lesieur, also from Sacred Heart, agreed saying, “I really liked Oscar. He was funny and entertaining.”
Dan Doyle, director of religious education at Sacred Heart, admitted that even though there were some teens that really didn’t want to be there in the beginning, there wasn’t one teen from his group that walked away saying they didn’t enjoy it.
“Oscar was a big hit with the teens”, he said. “That’s all they talked about on the ride home.”