Devon Geisler and Dan Axten of Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, carry the cross created for the diocesan Year of Youth into St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, Oct. 14. Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed the cross during the Mass, which served as the official kick-off for the Year of Youth. The cross will travel around the Diocese throughout the year. Craig Pittelli photos

Devon Geisler and Dan Axten of Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, carry the cross created for the diocesan Year of Youth into St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, Oct. 14. Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed the cross during the Mass, which served as the official kick-off for the Year of Youth. The cross will travel around the Diocese throughout the year. Craig Pittelli photos

By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent

On the day that the universal Church welcomed seven new saints – including a 19-year-old layman – more than 1,000 from the Church of Trenton, most of them young people, gathered with their shepherd for the diocesan Year of Youth official kickoff.

“What an awesome day to begin the Year of Youth,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., said, referencing not only the saints’ canonization but the month-long Synod of Bishops on young people, both in Rome.

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“It is a time for parish families and schools to pray with and for young people and for our Church to embrace our young people,” Bishop O’Connell said. “The Pope has explained to the whole Church that we need to give ourselves the space and time to reach out across the generations to really listen to the young, to love and to welcome you. Young people are the future … we can never underestimate the abilities of our young people or your faith:  You are the Church!”

Indeed, a youthful energy buzzed throughout St. Mary of the Pines Church, Manahawkin, as children, teens, young adults, families, schools and Church leaders from across the Diocese and beyond gathered Oct. 14 for an afternoon Mass and festival to celebrate the Year of Youth, which was decreed in the summer by Bishop O’Connell.  Though service projects were held in July and August as part of the Year of Youth, this particular sunny fall Sunday was the official kickoff.

Nearly 20 priests of the Diocese, including Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor of St. Mary Parish, concelebrated the Mass, which began with young people from about 25 parish youth ministries bearing colorful banners – many of them the work of their own hands – processing into the church. 

Kendra Zaleski helped carry in the parish banner from St. Isidore the Farmer Parish, New Egypt. “I have never been to anything like this before. It’s good because it makes you feel included in the larger Church,” she said.

‘It’s Your Church, too’

Inclusion was one message Bishop O’Connell preached on his homily as he urged all to “seek wisdom … never lose faith in Jesus … pray boldly and often.”

“It’s your Church, too,” he said, encouraging young people “to speak up … ask questions … share your doubts and dreams, and remember, that is the most important gift you have received and that you can give.”

He also handed down Church history to a new generation by referring to the canonizations that occurred that morning in Vatican City – among them, Pope Paul VI, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Nunzio Sulprizio.

Bishop O’Connell explained his appreciation of St. Paul VI, who had been Pope during his years in seminary, and pointed out that Nunzio Sulprizio, who lived only 19 years, made a fitting model for the faith of young people.

 He also blessed and commissioned the official Year of Youth cross, which was carried by Devon Geisler and Dan Axten of Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle. The 7-foot cross, constructed by Piotr Turek of St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, will travel around the Diocese throughout the year until the Year of Youth’s end in June 2019.

Whether it was by serving as readers or altar servers, bringing up the gifts or playing music, young people took a front-and-center role during the Mass. The festival-like atmosphere followed the Mass as food, bounce houses, games, music and a talent show were held in the parish hall and parking lot.

Peer Support

Esmeralda Pacheco of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, who proclaimed the Second Reading, said it was an honor to have the Bishop at the event. 

“I loved it,” she said of the Mass. “A lot of what he said reassured me that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. I liked that he said we can ask questions about faith.”  

Of the Mass and youth ministry in general, Matthew Paderon of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, who is a member of the Filipino youth group Bukas Loob sa Diyos, (meaning “Open to the Spirit of God”) said, “Not only do I meet others who praise God, but I get to worship with them.”

That feeling of camaraderie was exactly what Msgr. Tuzeneu was hoping for.

“I hope the Year of Youth reaches our young people with a message of hope and invitation. Sometimes, you feel like you’re all alone. Here, they get to see all these people of the same age practicing their faith,” he said.