Our Youth

Youth, Sex and Kwanza

High school and college aged youth got together on Saturday morning, Jan. 11, to talk about Jesus, sex and Kwanzaa.

Eliana Perez answers questions from young women about human sexuality and the teachings of the Catholic Church

“You have to know you are worth more than the world is telling you,” said Eliana Perez, the keynote speaker at the joint conference of Youth and Young Adult Leadership and J.A.M. for Jesus.

“The media is constantly telling you, you are not strong enough,” she said addressing the young men of the group. She explained that popular culture often tries to take away their manhood by implying that they are too weak to control their sexual desires.

Young women, she said, are presented with an important choice when they enter into a romantic relationship, one she said she struggles with herself: “Do I love him or do I love my desires more?”

Perez led the morning portion of the conference held at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, Jamaica, and organized, in part, by the diocesan Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns. The theme of the day was Theology of the Body.

She said the road to true chastity  in her relationship with her boyfriend, Willy Rodriguez, has been a team effort. She introduced him to the Theology of the Body. He, in turn, embraced the sacredness of human sexuality.

“I decided I have to be the strong one,” Rodriguez said when Perez invited him to share his experience of their relationship.

Perez echoed the sentiment. She said her boyfriend has more experience controlling his desires because, as a man, he experiences them daily, while she does not. Therefore, she relies on his well-disciplined strength.

Josephine Benjamin, 18, who came to the event with other youth from her parish, St. Martin de Porres, Bedford-Stuyvesant, said she has already heard the same message from her family members many times. However, it was different hearing it from someone outside the family, whom she still could relate to.

Young men report their conclusions on connections between Kwanzaa principals and the Theology of the Body.
Young men report their conclusions on connections between Kwanzaa principals and the Theology of the Body.

“She made it more interesting,” Benjamin said. “She broke it down, so it was easier to understand.”

Karen Laurent, 25, from St. Gabriel parish, East Elmhurst, said she has been struggling with many of the topics Perez spoke of and really needed some support and encouragement.

“I do believe in my faith, but [Perez] made the emphasis that you don’t have to compromise,” she said. “It really helped me understand.”

Seventeen-year-old Bryan Fontin, from Our Lady of Light, St. Albans, said he came to the event because his friends were coming but did not expect much from it. He was pleasantly surprised. Aside from the day being fun, he said he felt supported.

“It gave me back-up,” he said. “It’s not just me thinking about it.”

Ashley Harris, 16, from St. Martin de Porres said she felt encouraged when the women and men were separated so they could ask Perez and Rodriguez, respectively, questions in a more comfortable setting. Having heard the same questions from other young women, she realized she has peers in her way of thinking.

Father Dwayne Davis is a coordinator of the local Ambassador Program, which falls under the diocesan Vicariate of Black Catholic Concerns. He said youth in previous programs have expressed a desire of understanding the Church’s stance on human sexuality. Therefore, the Ambassador Program is focusing on Theology of the Body during this school year. It will also be the main theme of the Youth Lock on Feb. 14 and of the Kujenga retreat.

Keeping in touch with the African roots that the Ambassador Program promotes, the second part of the day was a discussion on Kwanzaa principles, which include unity, self-determination and creativity, as they relate to Theology of the Body.

JoAnn Perou, the program coordinator for the national Ambassador Program, attended the Queens conference to offer her support and pray with the youth. She said combining Theology of the Body and Kwanzaa was startling to some at first. However, she said they are completely compatible. She explained that the Kwanzaa principles are universal and help local communities thrive. Theology of the Body is, in part, meant to help individuals thrive in their communities.

The young people broke off into smaller discussion groups, each tasked with one Kwanzaa tenet. Among the group leaders were Daren Lewis and Charlyne Sainrose, the youth co-coordinators of the Ambassador Program.

“What we are trying to do is facilitate discussion,” Lewis, 20, said. “We are not trying to tell them what to do.”

After all, Sainrose said, they are all in the same boat together.

“I’m still trying to grasp this concept of the Theology of the Body,” the L.I.U. Brooklyn sophomore said.

Students end the day of contemplating sexuality before the Holy Eucharist.
Students end the day of contemplating sexuality before the Holy Eucharist.

After the small group sessions, the youth were asked to make a service commitment in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., based on the concepts they discussed. As they presented their observations, many of the groups decided to pray and wrote a prayer that touched upon Kwanzaa as it relates to Theology of the Body.

Father Davis said the activities were all meant to contribute to the larger purpose of the Ambassador Program.

“The ultimate goal is for all of them to be saints,” he said.

Father Chester Smith, S.V.D., came to the event from his Bowman Francis Ministry in Indianapolis to show his support of the youth. He has been part of the national J.A.M. for Jesus program from the very beginning and has helped shaped it.

“For young people to see priests, deacons, sisters and lay leadership caring for them is important so they realize that the Church considers them very valuable,” he said.

To emphasize this point, the day ended with all the adult leaders praying over the youth to help them stay true to God’s ways. They did so in front of the Blessed Sacrament during a holy hour. Father Davis said the holy hour was designed so the youth could bring all that they learned at the conference before Jesus and go to confession if need be.

“Jesus alone is true love and only Jesus can teach us what true love is,” he said.