BERGEN BEACH — While not everyone has the opportunity to attend World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, next month, St. Bernard of Clairvaux Parish gave more than 60 young faithful the chance to participate in the international celebration of faith.
Parishioners came together at the church Monday, July 10 to craft 400 friendship bracelets over eight hours for the pilgrims bound for World Youth Day. What started as a way for confirmation candidates to earn service hours, quickly became an opportunity for a community to come together and learn about World Youth Day.
A number of the children did not know anything about World Youth Day and were introduced to the idea of mission work for the first time, said Isabella Wagner, a parishioner of St. Bernard and a staff member of the Pontifical Mission Societies of the United States. The worldwide organization partnered with the church to bring the event to Bergen Beach.
“We really, truly hope that we are inspiring these young people that there are people out there in the missions, where the church is too poor or too little to sustain itself, that need our help,” Wagner said. “Not only just financially, but with our prayers, and with our support, and always remembering the mission.”
Volunteers — ranging in age from 6 to 82 — worked hand-in-hand to craft the bracelets, which also serve as prayer symbols. Each of the colors on the bracelets has significance — the first 200 were made in the colors of the World Mission Rosary. After this, “people started to get creative,” she explained.
Red, for example, is supposed to be the fire that drove missionaries to America. White is for Europe, the home of the Holy Father of the Church. Each of the colors represents a prayer for those parts of the world.
At the beginning of the day, the volunteers were taught about World Youth Day by Wagner, and that Pope Francis was calling upon the young people of the world to pray for one another and to be with each other in fellowship. Upon hearing that, the younger children were excited about both the bracelets and the idea of missionary work.
Sofia DiSanto, 11, is going into seventh grade at St. Bernard Academy, and spent three hours volunteering on July 10.
“It was a really nice experience,” she described. “I felt like I was really helping out the community, and all the kids around the world. And it was a nice time to see my friends since I haven’t seen them for a while in school.”
Prior to building the bracelets, Wagner told her about World Youth Day, which led DiSanto to “feel more special to help kids around the world.” Though she knew about the event, she was able to see and fully appreciate her ability to participate from afar.
“I felt like I learned that even if you can’t communicate with other people, talking or language wise, you can always include them in things that you’re doing. You could always find a way to help out people,” she said.
Of the approximately 13 friendship bracelets made by DiSanto, about half followed the World Mission Rosary, while the others she made into her own patterns.
Danielle Zito, a lifelong parishioner of St. Bernard’s, and a graduate of the church’s academy who is about to enter her senior year at St. John’s University, saw in the bracelets the ways in which the Catholic Church encompasses more than just her “little area in Brooklyn.”
“The bracelets are representative of so much more than just the people who made them,” she said. “Through the bracelets, you are able to show it as a sign of your faith.”
Zito is the blood drive coordinator at St. Bernard’s, worked at the rectory as a receptionist for about five years, and now teaches first grade for a Faith Formation program. She cannot attend World Youth Day, but the project gave her the opportunity to have a representation of herself and her parish at World Youth Day
“As I was looking around and I was interacting with the many people at this event, it just kind of made me reflect that life is a series of choices,” she said. “Everyday you wake up and you choose what path to go down, and all of us make the unifying choice to go to church even though we all take different paths to go home.”
“We need to start with the children first. If we don’t raise and grow young Catholics, someday we won’t have a Church, so it’s vitally important,” Wagner added. “It’s a way to teach them and remind them about the missions because we’re all called by our baptism to be missionaries of the faith,” Wagner said. The bracelet-making event was a way to “get children in the door” of church.
Presenting them with an engaging project that promotes togetherness is a crucial part of encouraging young people in the neighborhood to come to Mass on Sunday, but there’s more to it, she added.
“If we want to engage young people, it is not just to tell them to sit in the pew for an hour. That’s not a way to sell it. But this is a way to sort of encourage them to be involved and to know the importance of parish life.”
The bracelets are going to be distributed at the Pontifical Mission Societies’ booth at the vocational fair at the City of Joy in Lisbon.