Teens reconnect with faith at Pascua Juvenil

COLUMBIA—Young people need a rich Catholic spiritual life. They are faced with peer pressure and the challenges of school, dating and secularism, and benefit enormously if they learn to pray daily and rely on their faith to help them through life’s challenges.

More than 150 Hispanic high school students from 11 parishes focused on this message at the annual Pascua Juvenil conference April 30 at St. John Neumann School.

Groups from St. Thomas the Apostle Church in North Charleston, Blessed Sacrament Church in Charleston, and St. Peter Church in Columbia attended for the first time, according to Rhina Medina, associate for Hispanic youth ministry. This was the first high-school only Pascua.

The gathering takes place the weekend after Easter and is the result of months of planning, beginning when Hispanic youth leaders from the Southeast choose a theme. Youth then discuss the topic, read Scripture and write reflections on the issues and how they correspond to their personal lives.

The reflections are made into a book, which youth groups discuss during Lent.

Each group puts together a skit based on the issues. This year’s presentations included dramatic illustrations of how turning away from God can cause alienation from family and friends, bad moral choices and substance abuse.

Some focused on important Catholic values such as charity, hope and respect for life, and how figures such as Blessed Pope John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi and Blessed Mother Teresa can be role models.

Claretian Father Jorge I. Gallo from Colombia, the keynote speaker, has become a popular feature at Pascua because he combines humor with a serious message.

Father Gallo told students to make sure that the baggage of daily life doesn’t keep them from focusing on God and their faith.

To illustrate the point, he had volunteers pile bags, jackets and other accessories in the arms of a young man. His comical balancing act was an illustration of the deeper struggle young Catholics face if they allow secularism, stress and materialism to overwhelm their spiritual lives.

Father Gallo advised them to develop balanced social lives. He urged the teens to form lasting and strong friendships, but also learn how to spend time on their own to pray, reflect and think about what they want in their future.

“Even though you feel like you need someone to lean on, it’s also important to know how to stand on firm ground,” said Jessica Viruet, a youth leader from St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg-Leesville. “Father Gallo showed us loneliness is thought of as a negative thing, but we need to learn to see it in a different perspective because it gives us a chance to learn who we are as a person. We do need other people to lean on, but in the end, the only one who is always going to be holding you up is Jesus Christ.”

During the day, the attendees sang and prayed together, played games outside, shared meals and took part in activities to become acquainted with their peers.

Another goal of Pascua Juvenil is to help Hispanic teens network with each other and learn they are not alone.

Father Gallo closed the event with Mass. His homily focused on the important role Catholic youth play in the future of the universal church.

Edwin Camacho, 16, of St. Peter Church in Columbia, said he learned to live his faith more fully and stand up for his beliefs.

“As Catholics we have to stay together, especially because not everybody views Catholics as Christians,” he said. “We have to stick together no matter what, and we have to maintain our faith in God. It’s only because of Him that we have life right now.”