The Tablet Staff
St. Sebastian’s, Woodside, is devoted to both body and soul.
This is the third summer that the parish’s youth ministry has sponsored the “Fit Club,” a program that gives youths a way to exercise and build up their faith. And it is a year after Father Henry Torres, a parochial vicar at St. Sebastian’s, started a weight-loss program after being warned about the health dangers his weight posed.
Father Torres had a record of medical complications. He had two kidney transplants, was on anti-rejection drugs, and his blood pressure was starting to become too high. He also had a high risk of diabetes.
So the priest hired a personal trainer and has since lost 50 pounds.
“What really woke me up was the conversation I had with my doctor. I was almost 200 pounds,” Father Torres said. “[He told me,] ‘I’m doing my part as a doctor in the medical field to keep the kidney going, now you have to do your part for the longevity of it.’ It was a wake-up call.”
In the meantime, Father Torres has helped with the Fit Club, teaming up with Christina Penaloza, the parish’s director of youth and young adult ministry who started the Fit Club three years ago. She saw a need for young people in the parish to stay active during their summer vacations.
The club meets for two hours every Tuesday in July. Youth in the club set up exercise equipment, stretch, play a sport — this summer it was soccer and volleyball — and then sit down with Penaloza and Father Torres to discuss a passage from Scriptures.
“I base our whole youth ministry on the theology of the body,” Penaloza said. “The fact that what you do to your body, you do to your soul, and what you do to your soul, you do to your body.”
Ashley Ambrosi, 15, a parishioner of St. Sebastian’s and a member of the youth ministry, said the Fit Club gives her an opportunity to play sports, something she couldn’t do in her home country of Ecuador. Ashley moved to Queens from Ecuador four years ago to live her mom.
“I’ve always loved playing soccer, [but] I was never allowed to play it back in my home country,” Ashley said. “I’m from Ecuador, and I wasn’t allowed to play over there because it wasn’t a girl sport. So when I was here I was free, I could play a lot. It’s amazing that my church has it.”
About a dozen local middle school- and high school-age kids attend each week.
“The great thing is that our kids come in all shapes and sizes,” Penaloza said. “They come in all different colors, they come in all different heights and weights. The one thing that we all have in common is that we want to honor the gift that God has given us and take care of our bodies.”