By Rose O’Connor and Christina Leslie, Correspondents
Parishes around the Diocese celebrated Diocesan Youth Sunday, the Solemnity of Pentecost, by incorporating their smallest members in a big way.
“The youth of my parish are the ‘now’ of God,” said Linda Xerri, youth minister in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. “They are following the Gospel message and the Gospel values, and all we can hope for is that they continue to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.”
Photo Gallery: Diocesan Youth Sunday – St. Rose, Belmar
Photo Gallery: Diocesan Youth Sunday – Around the Diocese
Photo Gallery: Diocesan Youth Sunday – St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford
Related Article: 2019 Timothy Award winners
Xerri and other youth ministry leaders from throughout the Diocese’s four counties joined with clergy, lay ministers and family June 9 to highlight the contributions of its youth and young adults on Diocesan Youth Sunday, part of the Year of Youth initiated last summer by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. Twenty-six young adults were presented with the diocesan St. Timothy Award, given annually to youth who follow in the footsteps of the award’s namesake and are examples of love, faith and virtue.
Open to the Spirit
The Mass in Medford saw youth of all ages take the lead as readers, gift bearers, and Gospel reenactors of the story of Jesus visiting the disciples in the Upper Room.
Father Daniel Swift, pastor, welcomed all children in the parish to sit with him on the sanctuary steps as he explained the significance of Pentecost Sunday in a way they could understand. He asked two children to join him as they represented the Holy Trinity.
“You are the Holy Spirit, you come down from heaven, and you are going to guide the Church from today, Pentecost Sunday, until the end of time. That is your job, and you are doing it well,” he preached. “Our job, boys and girls, is to be open to the Holy Spirit, that all of the things the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts to do for God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we will do.”
During the Mass, several youth of the parish were recognized for their contributions to the parish community. Alex Bernstead, Harry Kingsmill and Gabriella Giegerich were presented with parish Youth Service Awards, while Amanda McNally, a junior in Seneca High School, Tabernacle, was presented with the St. Timothy Award.
“I was really surprised,” McNally said of receiving the award. “The service I do is not for recognition. By participating in YES [Youth Energized in the Spirit], I have fun, get to hang out with my friends and help others.”
In addition to recognition with a parish Youth Service Award, Matthew Mitchell was also presented with the Phyllis C. Badame Award. The now graduate of Holy Cross Preparatory Academy, Delran, who plans to attend Rutgers University, Camden, in the fall, received the scholarship for his service to the parish youth group, serving as an acolyte, his work with Vacation Bible School, and his service at the local soup kitchen and Habitat for Humanity.
“I could go on and talk of his extraordinary devotion to the church and the community, but we would all miss lunch and possibly miss dinner,” Joseph Badame, who presented the award in honor of his late wife, shared with a laugh.
A festive Diocesan Youth Sunday in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, began with a youth-focused 11:30 a.m. Mass in the Seventh Avenue church, where young people were acknowledged for their contributions to the parish.
Parishioner Susanna Testa said it was inspiring to see young people recognized, reflecting on how faith “helps me through the hard times. God is always there for me and gets me through some tough situations.”
She continued, “The Church helps me grow in my faith just by having people I can talk to … having a community of believers.”
The parish’s St. Timothy Award winner, Annie Crean, said, “Faith is number one in my life. I pray every day.” Calling the presence of other youth in the church “a joyful thing to see,” she continued, “I’m very excited about the future of the Church.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor, led a Eucharistic procession from the church to a vacant lot near St. Rose High School. Traffic slowed in the busy shore town, and onlookers stopped to pay homage to the Lord as parishioners knelt and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, incense wafting toward the blue sky.
Marking Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, a sheet cake was sliced and the party started, complete with clowns twisting balloon animals, children blowing soap bubbles, music and lawn games. Over the sound of happy shrieks from little ones, Msgr. Arnister explained the joyous parish event.
“It took a lot of hands and hearts working together, and it came out beautiful,” the pastor explained. “We must let the youth know they are loved by God and that the Church is for everyone, young and old, rich and poor.”
Parochial vicar, Father Christopher Dayton, also serves as chaplain of St. Rose High School. He said the celebration “is an important way to show the future of the Church… We must encourage youth to take ownership in the Church, not just sit around. It’s not only Mom and Dad anymore.”
Video from freelance photographer John Batkowski contributed to this report.