COLUMBIA—Young people who try to live according to Catholic teaching on sexuality and morality often face an uphill battle against a secular culture that turns the sacred into a commodity.
More than 200 Hispanic teens learned ways to hold onto traditional values during “Looking Towards Ourselves: Body, Sex and Our Christian Life,” at the annual Pascua Juvenil conference, held April 10 at St. John Neumann School.
Rhina Medina, associate for Hispanic youth ministry, said the conference was the conclusion of months of study, prayer and reflection. It is sponsored by the Southeast Regional Office for Hispanic Ministry of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala.
Each year, Hispanic youth leaders from the region meet and identify topics that are especially important in the lives of the young people with whom they work. They pick a theme which is broken down to six topics to correspond to each week of Lent.
This year’s focus was Catholic teaching on human sexuality.
In September, youth leaders and young people met with peers from the Southeast to discuss Christ’s Paschal Mystery, learn about the theme and decide which issue their group would address.
Over the next several months, the teens prepared Scriptural and spiritual reflections, personal testimonies, and suggestions for living a moral life, which were then compiled in a book.
Hispanic youth groups focused on a chapter of the book during the weeks of Lent, and discussed issues such as theology of the body, the importance of chastity and the problems caused by sexual immorality.
At Pascua Juvenil, the groups presented skits based on one of the moral issues discussed in the book. The group from St. John Neumann Church in Columbia gave an amusing performance set in a Catholic classroom, while the members of Immaculate Conception Church in Goose Creek presented a highly emotional vignette set to music. It depicted a young woman who was separated from Christ by sexual immorality, drugs, alcohol and materialism.
The keynote speaker for the day was Father Jorge I. Gallo, a priest from Colombia who holds workshops for young people in Central and South America, and the United States. Father Gallo talked about church teachings on sexuality, the sacramental mystery of marriage and the emotional differences between the sexes.
He encouraged the attendees to think about their goals in life, to develop spiritual and moral values, and to keep their faith at the center of all decisions about sexuality, love and relationships.
During the day, the young people sang hymns and contemporary Christian songs in Spanish, accompanied by musicians from diocesan churches.
The group attended an evening Mass concelebrated by Father Gallo and Father Filemon Juya, vicar for Hispanic Ministry, followed by a celebration with music and dancing.
Cesar Navarro, who drove three hours from Coastal Carolina University in Conway for the event, said he first heard Father Gallo speak two years ago.
“I was going through a tough time then after I broke up with my girlfriend, and seeing [Father Gallo] and hearing his message really changed my life,” he said. “He talks to young people about the psychological aspects of what they’re experiencing, and he also talks about Christ.”
Seira Reyes, who attends St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg-Leesville, said the conference helped to reinforce important messages about sexual morality.
“This has been pretty nourishing and enriching, a good continuation of what we’ve been working through together in recent weeks,” she said. “The best part is being able to see what God’s plan is in regard to our sexuality. We learned that it should be a gift, something to cherish and value. Sometimes it’s difficult to realize that, because in society it’s easy to be misled if we’re not careful.”