“They’re going to ignite each other in the fire of the spirit,” said Auxilairy Bishop Octavio Cisneros before celebrating Mass at the 2019 Brooklyn Catholic Youth Day (BCYD) on March 30.
In keeping with the event’s theme of “Ignite,” he said, “If you come as a Church, He has to be the center of it all. It is Jesus that will ignite our hearts, our lives.”
In order for Jesus to become the central focus for more than 1,200 teens who attended the annual youth rally on an early Saturday morning, the event would need to spark their interest and grab their attention through their senses.
Through the gifts and talents of a live praise and worship band whose members played the drums and keyboard, rocked the guitars and sang their hearts out, hundreds of teens inside the former Bishop Ford H.S. auditorium were enlivened by the sounds of giving thanks to God through song.
The lively music struck a chord with high school senior Tiffany Chyke-Okpuzor.
“The band that we have this year is a great way to start igniting us,” said the parishioner from St. Clare, Rosedale. “I feel that music is a way for everyone to just get up and have fun. Music that praises God can make all the young people understand that Church is not just a boring session. It can actually be lively and fun and interesting.”
Music was the favorite part for BCYD first-timer Erin Neiswenter, an eighth-grader from St. Francis de Sales parish, Belle Harbor.
“It made us all jump and dance and sing and it made everyone come together as a big group as a Catholic community.”
The joy she felt while living her faith out loud is what captured her attention and what ignited a deeper quest for what more God might be calling her to experience.
“It really made me want to go to church more, want to pray more and come to more youth groups,” added Neiswenter.
The annual youth rally was held in two locations this year – the former Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, and Holy Name parish’s Shepherds Hall, Windsor Terrace. Splitting between the two sites meant that the nearly 300 students from eight different parishes who were preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation would spend most of Saturday learning about topics like the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the parish hall.
Guiding the youth throughout the day at the Brooklyn church were energetic college students from the Catholic Scholars program at St. John’s University. The keynote speaker for the Confirmation students was national speaker and youth minister Will Smith. His message about faith and hope was portrayed through the lens of movies and superheroes. He told them that God gave each of them “super powers” or gifts that could be used for the greater glory of God.
“Every super hero story is about hope,” he told the youngsters.
Meanwhile more than 800 students at the former Park Slope high school had a different agenda – engaged through thought-provoking conversations led by the parochial vicar at St. Leo’s, Corona, Father Jose Diaz, who just a year ago at BCYD, was a transitional deacon preparing for his ordination as a priest. At the 2018 event, hundreds of teens were praying over him and two other transitional deacons who now serve at different parishes in the diocese.
Standing on stage in front of the crowds of teens, the Dominican-American priest born and raised in Queens felt right at home. He easily related to the teens, especially the Spanish-speaking who laughed at his jokes when he spoke about growing up in a Dominican household.
Whether it was relating to Father Diaz’s stories or simply hearing Bishop Cisneros speak about the universal Church in his native tongue, what resonated for some of the teens was hearing the Spanish language spoken by those leading the day-long event.
During the closing prayer after Mass, Bishop Cisneros spoke in English and Spanish about the diversity of the many countries that were represented at BCYD.
Yet the bishop also said that diversity wasn’t a division in the Church, but what unites the Church as one faith.
High school senior Armando Ruiz erupted in praise after the bishop spoke.
“It was in the dialect we know, it was in Spanish and as I said, I am Mexican, so to be able to know that a person of high authority in my religion is basically one of us, to speak our language is great, connects us more,” said Ruiz who is a youth leader at St. John the Baptist, Bedford-Stuyvesant. “It was just something powerful to hear him speak.”
The highlight of the day was when the teens participated in adoration. Father James Kuroly, spiritual director of the Jornada movement, processed around the auditorium carrying the Blessed Sacrament. As the praise and worship band accompanied the solemn hour in song, teens expressed their faith through reverence and some even through tears.
Adoration was the pivotal moment for the youth group from St. Francis de Sales Youth minister
Kathleen Woods hoped her teens would be ignited in their faith and they were.
“I saw it in their hearts, in their motions, in everything and then I think the most telling was during Adoration when I saw some of my teens crying before the Lord, that was powerful,” she explained.
As the day-long event was coming to an end after the exposition of the Eucharist, reverence was replaced with energy as the crowds once again freely enjoyed the live music with the lyrics that were projected onto a large screen on stage.
“It was amazing, it was a really nice experience,” said eighth-grader Daniel Rayder. “It really connected me more with God and Jesus.”
“It’s real,” he said. “It just shows how important your connection with God is and how it can change your life for the better.”