Sister Ann Elizabeth Norton and members of the Mora family gather for a photo after making an Advent wreath in St. Veronica Parish. John Batkowski photo
Sister Ann Elizabeth Norton and members of the Mora family gather for a photo after making an Advent wreath in St. Veronica Parish. John Batkowski photo

In August 2023, millions of youth and young adults from around the world will converge in Lisbon, Portugal to join Pope Francis for World Youth Day 2023.  World Youth Day, instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1985, was first celebrated in 1986 and continues to be commemorated about every three years.  In the years between the international gathering, Pope Francis encourages acknowledging WYD locally on the parish level.

This year, the Global Celebration of Young People was held Nov. 21 on the Solemnity of Christ the King and parishes throughout our diocese took the opportunity to recognize the important role that youth (adolescents ages 12 to 18), young adults (men and women ages 18 to 39) and families have in our Church.

A day to give thanks for parish youth

A special Mass was celebrated in St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro. The Mass included prayers and blessings specific to youth and young adults provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Father Eugene Roberts, pastor, reflected on the young Church in his homily, while observing the Feast of Christ the King.

“We’re looking at how important it is to recognize the specialness, the sacredness of youth, of our young people,” he said. “Our children and young people need to be affirmed, they need to be listened to, we need to ask questions and we need to hear their answers.

“Christ teaches us the greatest kingship is in the humble service in reaching out to other people. Our young people are beautiful examples of this, of how to reach out.”

“It’s important to support the Holy Father and recognize the young Church.  They are our lifeline,” Marie Masiello, St. Gabriel’s youth minister shared. Following the Mass, the teens in the parish gathered for “Friendsgiving” and had an opportunity to share food and fellowship ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Father Roberts conferred a special blessing and gave each of the youth a small cross to commemorate the Feast of Christ the King and the Global Celebration of Young People.

View Photo Gallery from St. Gabriel Parish

“Every generation of youth that comes to us – they just can’t be enough or do enough in faith for the Lord and for the families and all those around them.  They’re really good young people. I hope the youth of the Church stay focused and get reconnected with the love of God and not be afraid of living and thank God every day for the gift of life.”

Jada Tyndorf, 14, a student at Howell High School, spoke of the importance of her youth group in developing a relationship with God. “We are close,” she said, “We are like a family and share a special bond – our love for God,” she remarked.

Fellow youth group member Anthony Cammarata, 17, a senior at Colts Neck High School, concurred. “It’s important to support the youth.  They are our future and the future of the Church,” he said and encouraged the youth to support and love the Church as well.

“Become involved in the life of the Church,” he suggested. “It’s here where I understand my Catholic faith better and it’s here where I feel that spiritual connection to Christ.”

A day to support families

Pope Francis’ call to celebrate World Youth Day in parishes was also seen in Howell’s St. Veronica Parish on the Feast of Christ the King. There, scores of families with young children, teens and young adults were recognized with special liturgies and activities.

The special Mass for Families celebrated by Msgr. Leonard F. Troiano, a retired priest of the Diocese, was met with enthusiasm by parents and youngsters. They listened attentively as Deacon John Franey focused his homily on Jesus as “our king who will never leave us. Whatever we ask of him, he does for us. This is Christ the King,” declared Deacon Franey.

This depiction is distinctly different from Disney-like images of kings, or as bosses or characters that “want to gobble up power,” he said, for it is of a king who will “protect us from our enemies and keep us together. He is a servant who is there for the benefit of the community.”

Monsignor Troiano, who conferred a special blessing on the “dear children and families” in attendance asked the parents and the parish community to protect and look after the young ones and support them on their journey of faith.

The request for support was warmly received by the families and youth, including Katarina Kacmarova and her daughter Nikola, 12, who attends religious education. They stayed after Mass to make an Advent wreath for the family together.

The pair commended the parish for the opportunity to celebrate not only World Youth Day, but the Advent season and the recognition that it’s “about young kids being involved in Church. It’s about family,” said Kacmarova.

The Family Mass had followed a Mass for Youth and Young Adults attended by hundreds where young people served as readers, gift bearers and members of the choir as they joined in a day-long recognition of the 36th anniversary of World Youth Day underway in countless parishes worldwide.

Members of the youth group stayed on in the cafeteria of Mother Seton Academy to assist the 30 or so individuals making Advent wreaths. Among them was Marianna Medina, 17, a senior in Howell High School, who said she was thrilled that youth and young adults were being prayed for and considered during these stressful times.

View Photo Gallery from St. Veronica Parish

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “A lot of times we’re going through things – Covid, mental health stress, social media pressures. It’s not always bad, but it is nice to know that people are acknowledging that it is rough. It’s nice that we are here seeing each other again and being back full time.”

“It’s an opportunity to serve the parish,” said freshman Catherine Prioli, 14, as she buzzed around the room helping the families.

“I’ve been a member of the group for five years and a member of the ‘big kid group’ since the reopening” from Covid, she noted.

Prioli, who sang with the choir in the Youth and Young Adult Mass, called the day a “blessing. I’m glad to serve and help afterward. Having a local World Youth Day is a great thing.”

Resurrection Sister Ann Elizabeth Norton, director of the religious education program who coordinated the day, offered similar sentiments.

“I’m thrilled that the Pope called for this special recognition and excited to have the celebrations in the parish,” said Sister Ann.

She recalled attending World Youth Days in Toronto and Germany. “They had a big effect on my vocation. Just seeing so many young people on fire with the Lord and walking with kids from Australia who had just learned the next one would be there” was inspirational, she said.

“Having World Youth Day celebrations locally is great,” she said. Since the times don’t allow for a lot of travel right now, “I think this approach offers more universality. No matter where you are, you get to celebrate.”


A day to serve others

Historically, World Youth Day was celebrated in parishes on Palm Sunday, but last year Pope Francis moved the celebration to the Solemnity of Christ the King, keeping Jesus Christ the focus of the global event, as it has been since the establishment almost 40 years ago.

Different Christ-centered acts of service by youth of the Diocese reflected the true essence of World Youth Day, prominent in the global celebrations in the past.

In St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, for instance, the Confirmation candidates raised over $1,000 for the Missions by hosting a bake sale following the Masses.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our students to make the connection between what it means to be a disciple and put their faith into action through service.  Our parish and school mission theme is “We Make Disciples” and our students were a visible sign of this discipleship in our parish this weekend. Their discipleship will help to foster discipleship in those who are helped and served by the great work of missionaries around the world and within our Diocese,” Linda Xerri, director of religious education said.

View Photo Gallery of World Youth Day activities from around the Diocese

Serving others was the theme for the youth in St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, who spent the day delivering Thanksgiving food baskets to families in need. The more than 150 baskets were made from donations collected by the group through collaboration with other parish organizations.

Similarly, the youth in St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, worked with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to deliver Thanksgiving meals to needy families in Asbury Park. 

Youth minister Audrey Krastins detailed the work of the young people in the parish, “Our youth ministry sponsors the annual giving tree in our parish. Gift tag requests are assembled by our teens from different local organizations that we sponsor every year. There are 500 gifts that were donated by our parishioners and sorted by our youth ministry for the organizations.”

Noted in the Church’s pastoral documents for the annual celebration of youth and young people, “Jesus is at the center, as he has always been since the youth and young adults of Jerusalem first proclaimed him as their one true king and leader.”

A day to gather

In addition to the participation of individual parishes, a diocesan retreat day was held Nov. 21 at St. Theresa Parish, Little Egg Harbor, for a number of eighth through 12th-graders and youth ministry leaders who gathered for a combination of in-person experience and National Catholic Youth Conference programming.

Responding to Pope Francis’ call to celebrate World Youth Day at the local level annually on the Feast of Christ the King, the three-and-a-half-hour conference took its theme from the NCYC in Indianapolis – “Ablaze” – a nod to the gifts received in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“The focus was on the gifts of the Holy Spirit – how to recognize those gifts in a young person, and how to empower them to use those gifts,” said Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.

Participants had an opportunity to view virtual content as a group from the national event, listening to the recorded Catholic speakers shortly after they appeared live in Indianapolis.

“It was very much a retreat inspired by the story of Pentecost, and how young people are called to be on fire for their faith,” Waddington explained, “but also, like the apostles did, to go out and set the world ablaze by witness and spreading the good news. … We tried to connect them to the national conference, but still give them a local retreat experience.”

Waddington looks forward to next year’s efforts, with the Department of Youth and Young Adult ministries helping parishes “celebrate young people in their local faith communities as a part of the local WYD initiative.”