When she was younger, Lily Dougalas thought of faith as believing in God as someone with a large scroll who knew what was going to happen when and how. Now, the high school junior from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hermosa Beach views her Catholicity differently.
“I know it’s a relationship, making a relationship with him,” she said. “It’s my decision to follow and it’s up to me to bring that together.”
Dougalas was one of the 15,000 young people from Southern California and beyond who gathered March 13 at the Anaheim Convention Center for R.E. Congress Youth Day Celebration. Themed “Never Alone, Forever Accepted,” this year’s offering gave youth plenty of opportunities to move with music, spend time with old and new friends and find moments of reflection and prayer.
Many wished that the joyous atmosphere of Youth Day was present in their lives back at home, in school and in their daily travels.
“It so fun to be able to celebrate your faith with everyone here,” said Darma Poonoosami, a senior from Paraclete High School in Lancaster. “I think about my faith a lot, what it means to me and how to live. I know that without my faith, my life wouldn’t have any meaning. What am I here for? Just to be worm food? My faith gives me something to hold on to, and that makes me want to help others around me.”
Many young people called the Youth Day experience a spiritual shot in the arm — a spiritual boot camp for the days ahead. Indeed, in his popular workshop “Dealing with Stress” that combined humor, music and a message of hope, Jessie Manibusan reminded his attendees that “Life is difficult and I struggle every day to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus doesn’t mean all will be good. Life is difficult. Life is stressful. But you are loved. And you are never ever alone.”
Temptations — drugs, alcohol, sex and indifference — are everywhere. “That’s what makes Youth Day so important,” said Patty Martinez of St. Ferdinand Church, San Fernando. “This is an amazing way to experience the Lord, on a deeper level. It can sustain us through those hard times.”
Many young people admitted that showing their faith outside of church, Life Teen groups or religion classes, even in Catholic high schools, isn’t socially acceptable. “People will make fun of you,” said senior Jacqueline Delgado of St. Anthony Church in Upland. “But I don’t care what others think. I think it scares some people to see others strong in their faith in Jesus.”
In the workshop “LOL: Loving our Liturgy,” Father Rob Galea, a parish priest and composer from Australia admitted that “yes, there are times that Mass will be boring. But keep going. Don’t stop. Expect an encounter with God every time you come to Mass.”
The jubilant mood of Youth Day was encapsulated at the closing liturgy which began with performances by the St. Francis Drumline and the Crespi Carmelite Celt Taiko drummers which got everyone up on their feet.
Archbishop José Gomez, who presided at the final celebration, reminded everyone that this day marked the one-year anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. The audience burst into applause.
The archbishop encouraged young people to think of themselves as missionary disciples. “Understand that we are beloved children of God, sons and daughters who did not just appear on this Earth out of nowhere,” he told them. “The creator of the universe, God, made you — each one of you — for a reason. Think about it. God talked about you before you were born. And he’s still thinking about you. He knows your name. God is still deeply interested in each of your lives. God loves us and cares and wants a personal friendship with each one of us.”
The best way to have a friendship with Jesus —like any other friendship — begins with talking and spending time with that person, he added. “Our mission on Earth is to share the beauty of a God who is a loving God who cares about us and can be really close to us and make us really happy.”
Archbishop Gomez closed with the example of LAPD Officer Nicholas Lee, for whose funeral Mass he had just come from presiding. Lee, the archbishop said, was a normal man whose life “was a beautiful testimony to his Catholic faith. And that is our mission — to know we are loved by God and wanting others to know that as well.”