Joey Tun, youth ministry director in St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, takes a photo with members of the parish’s youth ministry May 21 at Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson. John Blaine photos

Joey Tun, youth ministry director in St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, takes a photo with members of the parish’s youth ministry May 21 at Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson. John Blaine photos

By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent

“Many people think faith and fun are not words that go together,” Gabby Cano, 16, said after spending a day at Six Flags Great Adventure, Jackson. “This day goes to show that isn’t necessarily true.”

Cano, a member of the student ministry in St. Paul Parish, Princeton, was one of many teens, youth ministry leaders and families from the state’s five dioceses to attend the 22nd annual New Jersey Catholic Youth Rally held May 21. The annual day of friendship and faith is coordinated through the Dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Metuchen and Paterson as well as the Archdiocese of Newark.

Photo Gallery: Catholic Youth Rally at Great Adventure

“We have over 300 youth, youth ministers and their families and friends from the Diocese of Trenton,” said Jerry Wutkowski, assistant coordinator of young adult ministry. “This day gives the youth a lot of hope, joy and allows them to share their faith, not just with their own faith community but also out in public.”

Tom Foti, 16, a member of the youth ministry from St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, echoed Wutkowski’s sentiments. “It’s great to meet people from not only the Diocese of Trenton, but from all over the state of New Jersey who share our faith.”

Those in attendance gathered at Great Adventure not only to seek thrills among some of the highest and fastest roller coasters in the world, but also to seek Christ in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph William Tobin, C.Ss.R, from the Archdiocese of Newark.

After spending hours in the amusement park, the youth and their adult chaperones headed toward the park’s Northern Star Arena for Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

“This day shows you that no matter where you are, your faith is part of you and you need to bring your faith into the public,” said Ashley Evans, 15, a fellow member of the St. Paul Parish student ministry.

Darragh Daly, also 15, of St. David the King Parish, West Windsor, agreed.

“This day is fun, and it also allows us to show others how we represent ourselves as Catholics and how we can never turn our back on faith – it’s always a part of who we are,” Daly said.

St. David the King Parish youth minister Andrew Scala also stressed the importance of the event.

“I really enjoy seeing youth ministers and kids from all over the Diocese,” he asserted. “It’s helpful to get to spend time with the teens in a looser environment. It’s a great way to reach the teens in a different way.”

As the youth leaders from St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, awaited their charges to return from the rides and gather for Mass, they reflected on how beneficial attending the Youth Rally is for teens.

“This day gives the teens the opportunity to see how they are not different, that there are others who believe the same things,” Sierra Giasullo said.

Fellow youth leader Nicole Desio concurred. “They’re having a blast. We not only encouraged the kids to come today, but to also use this as an evangelization tool, we told them to bring a friend, see what we’re about.”

At the Mass, organized by the Archdiocese of Newark, “what we’re all about” was certainly in the forefront as attendees prepared to celebrate Mass by enjoying worship music by Sean Patrick Malloy.

“You’ve had a great day, but the best of your day is about to come,” the band said before Mass.

“It’s wonderful to celebrate with all of you,” Cardinal Tobin said as he began Mass. “I am so absolutely delighted to meet young people from the north, east, south and west of New Jersey. … I’ve only been in Jersey for five months, but I’ve quickly found out it’s the best state of the United States,” he said to a chorus of cheers.

In his homily, Cardinal Tobin spoke of the fear that lies in the hearts of people in the world and also in teens today.

“You get messages all the time, that you’re not smart enough, you’re not rich enough,  you’re not handsome enough, that if you don’t look good in your Instagram photos people will be talking about you. We live in a world of fear.”

He suggested that Jesus understands our fear and that we don’t need to be afraid.

“All of us by our Baptism and some of us by our Confirmation have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does many wonderful things for us, but most of all, the Holy Spirit says, ‘Don’t be afraid. You’re not orphans. God loves you. God knows your name, and God knows you better than you know yourself. There is no reason to be afraid,’” he said.

While his homily offered hope to the youth, Cardinal Tobin said he also finds hope in the young people of the Church.

As the teens headed back into the park for a few more hours of fun and faith-sharing, Rich Donovan, Associate Director in the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Archdiocese, shared his thoughts on the Mass and the annual event. It was great. Cardinal Tobin is so personable and the kids responded well to him. It was a great ending to an all-around great day.”

Following Mass, Cardinal Tobin spent nearly an hour speaking with youth and youth minsters from all around the Garden State, praying, blessing and taking photos with them.

“It’s a real pleasure to meet with the youth and the adults that care for them every day,” he said. “This is the sign of a healthy Church, the young people who can have a great time and worship Christ together.  This gives me hope. “