Junior High Youth Rally puts the pieces together

WHITE OAK — More than 700 junior high boys and girls took part in one of the largest youth rallies held in the diocese in recent years, according to Jerry White, director of youth and young adults ministry for the diocese. They met Nov. 4 for “A Piece of the Puzzle,” a Junior High Youth Rally that focused on teaching the youth how to make faith in God an integral part of their daily lives.

The rally was for girls and boys in sixth through eighth grades, the  years that White says are crucial for a young Catholic’s spiritual development.

“Something’s going right when you have 700 people coming from all over the state on a Saturday for an event like this,” White said. “We’re trying to stress how important a vibrant junior high youth ministry is if you also want to have strong high school programs and beyond. We’ll be seeing the fruits of this in years to come.”

During the rally, the youth took part in drama, music, prayer workshops and worship. A special Mass was celebrated by Father Marcin Zahuta from St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.

Skits, music, video and other elements of the program were put together by members of the diocese’s Evangelization Team, known as the “E-team.”

The day’s puzzle theme was reflected in the decor at the auditorium where the young people gathered. Small jigsaw puzzles with one piece missing were taped to windows and walls outside the auditorium, and larger paper cutouts of puzzle pieces decorated the interior walls and ceiling. Team members also took part in a skit in which a private eye was helping a woman search for the missing puzzle piece in her spiritual life.

The team’s innovative approach to youth worship even included a prayer set to the distinctive rhythms of the rock anthem “We Will Rock You,” by Queen.

One of the featured guest speakers for the day was Jamie Dillon, a singer-songwriter originally from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Dillon, who has recorded three CDs of her upbeat acoustic music, led a light-hearted session that included a crowd of girls singing along with “If You’re Catholic and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

Dillon had a dual message for the young people: the power of prayer and the importance of relying on God, and not peer pressure, to make important decisions in life.

“When you pray you have to give God some credit,” Dillon said. “Give God credit and don’t boss him around. Joseph trusted God and so did Mary when they said the biggest ‘yes’ ever.”

Dillon also spoke about the concept of “contagious faith,” which means letting the joy that can come from a deep faith in God show through in one’s daily life.

ApeX Ministry, a Washington, D.C.-based duo that describes itself as “Christian vaudeville,” was another featured presentation during the day. ApeX includes Gene Monterastelli and Brad Farmer, who combine lessons about living life as Catholic Christians with sketch comedy, juggling and other antics.

Their performance in White Oak centered around the idea of how young Catholics can become modern day “superheroes” in their own right by striving to follow the guidelines for holiness set forth by Jesus in the gospels and by the lives of the saints.

They said that living a life that pleases God can be accomplished by acknowledging the small miracles of creation and through even the smallest acts of kindness.

“When you bring joy to another person, you bring joy to God … Put a smile on another human being’s face and you put a smile on the face of our creator,” Farmer said.

White said he was impressed by the turnout for the rally and also by the enthusiasm of the E-team.

“What a witness these young people are — they run the whole rally,” White said. “The work they do for these conferences is time consuming, not something they throw together. They do all the work because this might be the only time some of the people who come hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The next major youth rally in the diocese will be for high school students in March 2007.