By Lauren Costantini | Correspondent
Mary Morrell | Managing Editor
The brightly lit cafeteria of St. Aloysius School was lively April 14 as high school students from across the Diocese of Trenton gathered to take part in “Trenton’s Got Talent – Acts of the Apostles,” this year’s Diocesan Youth Celebration. Sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth, Marriage and Family Life, the annual celebration brought some 300 youth to the Jackson school for a unique experience of faith formation and fellowship that included presentations, teen-led workshops, skits and music.
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The day included Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who reminded youth that, “The ‘talent’ that we celebrate in our diocese is our ability as young people not only to live in the ‘now’ but to know where the Church has been and to see where it is headed … and the part we play in the whole process of faith as young people. Like the Apostles in the Gospel today, we have the talent to recognize Jesus, to see him in others, to make him part of our life, to turn from bad things in order to do good. To make an Easter of every day of our lives.”
Beatboxing for Faith
Among the event’s highlights was keynote presenter, Paul Kim, an international youth speaker, vocalist and beatboxer hailing from California. With two albums under his belt and more than a million hits on YouTube, Kim’s display of enthusiasm for professing his faith is a contagious form of evangelization for youth.
From a stage in the gymnasium, with a large, silver ACTS sign serving as the backdrop and colored strobe lights rotating on either side, Kim told the youth, “Sometimes you have to be out of your comfort zone to have a new experience,” recounting how in his teens he was the kid in the youth group who didn’t want to be there. He explained how disconnected from his faith he was back then and how he would just be going through the motions at church with his parents. “I used to go for two reasons – girls and donuts,” he quipped.
Kim continued with a story about how he had apathetically signed up, at his youth minister’s suggestion, to join the group at a conference in Arizona called Studentville. Kim described his initial impressions of it as “awkward” until he heard from youth who spoke to the audience about topics relevant to his age group.
This positive environment, said Kim, encouraged him to cultivate a closer relationship with God, to learn from Scripture stories, such as the Prodigal Son, that despite the obstacles that life might present, “God wants to bridge that gap.”
Kim acknowledged that he was “extremely blessed to be here,” noting that a “relationship with God is a two way road,” and told youth to “use your gifts to glorify God. You are the gifts. Each unique, unrepeatable.”
Expressing the Gifts
As an inspirational part of the day, teen-created performances, “Acts of the Apostles,” served to express acts of faith and the characteristics of love, peace, joy, mercy and healing or reconciliation.
Rebecca Avilleira, accompanied by Kevin DeMoura, both from St. Aloysius Parish, performed an original song, “Tears on the Water,” composed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, expressing the need to keep faith and hope during difficult times.
Catie Zeismer, from St. Rose High School, offered her original “10 Commandments Rap.” She and a fellow classmate were assigned to do a report on the Ten Commandments, and the rap was a creative expression of the commandments.
Christian Brother Academy, Lincroft, student Jonathan Login, along with Monsignor Donovan High School, Toms River, students William Downing and John Scott, also performed a song and dance to “Now That We’re Men (of God),” their original parody of “Now That We’re Men” from the “Spongebob Squarepants” movie.
Christina Barnett, of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, performed “Masks,” an original song about recognizing the burdens others carry and being a support through kindness and love, while
St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, youth group members Bella Potenziani, Tina Naha, Nico Naha, Gary Krall, Jake Spoor, Jenny Kret, Gregory Wall and Jack McNamara performed “Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” two skits that focused on the important topic of choices.
Times of Discovery
As youth moved throughout the day they also listened to a presentation on the Rosary, by Cindy Craft, youth minister in St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, who explained that to be an apostle is to be someone “who has shown you how to live your faith … who teaches and preaches the faith by their everyday actions.”
The Rosary, said Craft, started with St. Dominic, with some of the earlier rosaries made of knotted ropes, beads, and small rocks. She pointed out that the Rosary, a means of comfort, hope, love and peace, was the favorite prayer of Blessed John Paul II, who spoke of the Rosary as “marvelous in its simplicity and depth.” Participants were also given an opportunity to create two decades of a Rosary, one to give to someone they view as an apostle and the other to be kept as their own.
In a youth-led workshop designed to compare saints and celebrities, Josh Greiner and Ashley Winters, members of the youth council, encouraged teens to discover their spiritual gifts. In small groups, teens discussed their strengths and weaknesses and shared ideas for improvement which included such service initiatives a volunteering at soup kitchens, donating to clothing and food drives and helping the homeless.
Following the presentation of the Timothy Awards by Bishop O’Connell, youth, many wearing their youth group t-shirts, walked from the school to the church for Mass celebrated by the bishop and concelebrated by Msgr. Kenard Tuzeneu, pastor, St. Mary Parish, Barnegat; Father Kevin Keelen, pastor, and Father Fernando Lopez, parochial vicar, assisted by Deacon Rene Perez, St. Aloysius Parish. A number of youth served as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, readers and gift bearers.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell observed, “Young people live in the present moment. ‘Now’ means more to young people than ‘yesterday or tomorrow.’ As you get older, however, memories become more important, more precious. Memories help us return to those moments in our lives that have had some impact on us, that have affected us in some way. Not all such memories are good or happy ones. Other memories bring joy and a sense of peace and contentment.”
The bishop stressed, “We continue to celebrate the Easter Season in these days as we remember and call to mind Jesus’ death and resurrection and the impact it had on the early Church. … . Jesus appears to his followers after his resurrection to give them encouragement, lest his memory simply fades away and they return to their former ways.
“Jesus appearances prepared the Apostles for what they would experience and encounter as they shared his memory and message with the world. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles – in fact our continuous reading throughout Easter – tells that story.”
Easter, said Bishop O’Connell, “is a memory but more than that, more than simply a recollection of something past, Easter is a present and future reality. It offers us the possibility to overcome the negative influence and power of this world, of the culture we live in, to live in Christ. Jesus constantly appears to us, inviting us to his meal, inviting us to follow him. We are an Easter people.”
The message was not lost on the youth who expressed appreciation for a vibrant day that encouraged them to accept the invitation to follow Christ, to live their faith and to be themselves.
Carlos Zamor, a member of St. Catherine Parish, Middletown, shared that he, “took the day off from work to see what people had to say about God.”
For Cristina Naha, from St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, “The conference really got me excited about my faith. Paul J Kim and the youth leaders were so passionate and down to earth. They made it easy to not only relate to what they were saying, but to enjoy it as well. In addition, speaking to Bishop O’Connell and spending time with him was a reward within itself.”
Rosemary Daniels, correspondent, contributed to this story.