The Showcase Arena was nearly filled during the opening ceremonies of the NJ Catholic Youth Rally hosted by the Diocese of Trenton. Rose O’Connor photo
The Showcase Arena was nearly filled during the opening ceremonies of the NJ Catholic Youth Rally hosted by the Diocese of Trenton. Rose O’Connor photo
Spending a day at Six Flags Great Adventure going on thrill rides, playing carnival games and enjoying festival foods sounds like something that would be pretty hard to top.

But the teenagers and youth ministers who gathered at the Jackson theme park for the New Jersey Catholic Youth Rally May 15 experienced a whole lot more.

“We’re here for God,” said Kevin Huix of St. Joseph Parish, Trenton. “We’re here to praise him, to have fun with him and with others and to share the experience of his love that he gives to us.”

Photo Gallery: See photos from the Opening Ceremonies hosted by the Trenton Diocese  

Photo Gallery: See photos from Mass

After a two-year lapse because of the COVID-19 shutdown, the New Jersey Catholic Youth Rally resumed this year, drawing some 1,500 young people from the five New Jersey dioceses – Trenton, Metuchen, Paterson, Camden and the Archdiocese of Newark.

The day began bright and early in the morning with this year’s opening ceremonies highlighting the lives and ministries of several saints, including that of Blessed Carlo Acutis, patron saint of the youth of the Diocese of Trenton.  The teens were encouraged to become saints-in-the-making by sharing their gifts and talents with others and make it a priority to live out their Catholic faith.

“Lord, make them bold today, bold in their faith. Let everyone in this park look at you and recognize the face of Jesus,” Jeff Siedlecki, youth minister from Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, prayed just before the streamer cannons erupted and the teens headed for their first ride of the day.

At the beginning of the day, Elizabeth Prioli of St. Veronica Parish, Howell, said that while the rides “are pretty fun,” she thought what she would enjoy most “is the sense of community” she would share with her peers.

Ismael Garcia, a member of the Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, also mentioned that sense of community.

“During the Opening Ceremony, I felt a lot of energy from the people. There was something powerful there. I felt like everyone felt the same thing as me.” Garcia said.

Dan Waddington, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Diocese, reflected on why the Catholic Youth Rally is a favorite event of teens from around New Jersey. “It brings the whole state together,” he said.

“When they go to Mass today with 1,500 others who are praying together, worshipping together and receiving Jesus together, that really helps them feel united as Church,” he said. “It’s a day to celebrate and be energized and be excited but it’s also a day to pray and we embrace how we are as Catholics. It helps the young Church realize they are not alone.”

After hours of rollercoaster riding and enjoying lunch in the picnic grove, the teens and youth ministers gathered in the Batman Stunt Arena for Mass celebrated by Father Tom Newton, pastor of St. Damien Parish, Ocean City.

Father Newton, who was principal celebrant, was joined by priests from the other dioceses including Trenton’s Father Christopher Colavito, chaplain of The College of New Jersey, Ewing.  Also serving at the altar was Trenton seminarian, Kyle Holler.

In his homily Father Newton reflected on the Gospel of John for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, in which Jesus gave his followers a new commandment; namely, to love one another.

“I encourage each of you gathered here today to take some time to see, not just with your eyes but to see with your heart.  To see people who are sick, suffering, hurting, hungry, abandoned and lonely. …  If we are to love as Jesus loved perhaps, we are to start seeing people as Jesus sees people. Jesus saw people’s sinfulness, he saw their flaws, he saw their failings, but he also saw them as children of God. He looked beyond their faults into their hearts.”