More than 100 teens from around the diocese gathered at Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians Church, Woodside, March 12, for a Sunday night filled with praise, worship and encouragement at the XLT (Exalt) Youth Night of Worship. The service was led by Steubenville musician and professor Dr. Bob Rice.
It was the kickoff event to a three-day parish Lenten mission focused on the theme of following in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter. Nearly half of the students gathered in the Queens church were preparing themselves for the sacrament of Confirmation.
The night opened up with Rice and a live band playing popular Christian worship songs like “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin and “Holy Spirit” by Francesca Battistelli, in order to get the students to sing along and hopefully open their hearts to the inspirational talk that was to follow.
Truly grasping the meaning of the night was high school senior Andrea Hernandez, who sat in the front pew of the church with seven other members from her youth group at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jamaica.
“There’s no words that can describe how I felt, but I guess you can say pure joy,” said Hernandez. “It’s not just any happiness. I felt pure joy and I do feel like I felt God and his love.”
She attributed such a joyful experience to Father Christopher O’ Connor, the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, who extended an open invite through Facebook.
During the opening talk, Rice addressed the confirmandi in the crowd, who made up more than half of the audience, with a question that got to the heart of the matter. With one hand on the Bible, he referenced Matthew, Chapter 19: the story about the rich young man who asked Jesus about eternal life.
“I’m sure some of you are really excited about receiving the sacrament of Confirmation and I’m sure some of you are saying what’s the least I need to do to still be allowed to receive the sacrament? It’s a human thing. Many of us are there at one place or another,” Rice said.
“And so this young man comes up to Jesus and he asks the big question, ‘Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven? What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus says, ‘Know the commandments.’”
Reflection and Adoration
After advising the students to try to understand the Ten Commandments, it was time for personal reflection and for the encouraging words to come into full circle through personal time with Jesus during Eucharistic adoration.
Father O’Connor led the exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, then proceeded to bring the monstrance to all sections of the church where the students were sitting and praying. He explained that he never had the opportunity to experience Eucharistic adoration when he was a teen and so he wanted these young people to have it.
“When I was in CCD, no one ever brought me to adoration,” said Father O’Connor.
“I didn’t know what the Eucharist was really. I didn’t know what adoration was. I didn’t see it until I was 20 years old and I fell in love with it the first second I saw it. So I want kids to know Jesus present in the Eucharist and what adoration means.”
Hernandez, who attends Forest Hills, H.S., said that Father O’Connor’s efforts to encourage the youth to gain a deeper relationship with Jesus was paying off.
“A majority of the kids who probably are reluctant to come because they feel it might be boring or that it’s not very youthful,” said Hernandez.
“But youth are alive in the church, so my response would be ‘Oh, just come, you know, a lot of us are welcoming and we all have something in common and it’s the love and yearning for God.'”