By NANCY CZABALA
COLUMBIA — On Saturday, April 23, 300 junior high students from across South Carolina, including some travelers from Georgia, came together to laugh, play and learn more about their religion. During the day students were reminded of the benefit of listening, and if that day they were able to put this most effective tool for learning into practice, the benefit was outstanding.
The day opened with the students processing into the auditorium at Cardinal Newman in Columbia to music and excited senior high students, who directed the attendees to their seats. The morning got off to an energy-packed round of ice-breakers. The senior high students got the attendees on their feet taking part in various skits and games. Laughter came from every corner of the room, even the parent volunteers enjoyed a hearty belly laugh that morning.
The fun continued with the entrance of Estelle, a nosy, outspoken older woman, who was not afraid to ask questions about the Catholic faith. She inquired about becoming a convent, and was corrected by the attendees that she actually wanted to be convert. She discussed the sacraments, after she learned that the church did not actually invent a new refreshing mint, the sacra-mint. She kept the crowd’s energy high, discussing the origin of aerobics at Mass, followed by a group demonstration by the attendees. Estelle led them: sit, two, three four; stand, two, three, four; sit, two, three, four; kneel, two, three, four; and stand, two, three, four.
The keynote speaker, Doug Brummel, showed up then, looking vaguely like Estelle. Brummel is a nationally known Catholic Christian entertainer, comedian, musician, storyteller and teacher, who came from Littleton, Colo., where he lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their son, Benjamin. He asked that the attendees “get inspired from his various characters throughout the day”: like Estelle, who took time to ask questions and learn about the faith.
“He sent a great message about the sacraments. It was a very Catholic presentation and it made the students think about what differentiates them from their non-Catholic friends,” said John Waters, Director of Youth at Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta.
Andrew, a college student, was the next character who answered sarcastic questions from his peers about the Catholic faith, such as, “Why do you worship statues?” To which Andrew answered, “We don’t.” He said to his friend, don’t you keep pictures of loved ones and fun vacations in prominent places in your home? Our religious statues and pictures are of people and places that we want to remember, they’re reminders of our faith. His friend asks him the same question about saints and Mary, to which Andrew again replies, “We don’t.” We honor Mary, he says, because she is Jesus’ mother and the fourth commandment says to honor thy mother and father. And we ask the saints to pray for us, we don’t worship them, he said.
“The presentation helped them understand their faith better, and helped them to be able to explain their faith to their friends,” said Waters.
Brummel wrapped up the morning session with two things to remember: don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t be afraid to be proud of our faith and be the best Christian witnesses.
After lunch the senior high students led the junior high attendees in a round of games outside. The kids were put into groups and rotated to different “Olympic” events: the egg race, the dizzy bat, thread-the-string race, pass the Certs and a snack-eating race.
Throughout the day the senior high students, who came from Our Lady of Peace in North Augusta, St. James in Conway and St. Joseph’s in Columbia, showed lots of enthusiasm and energy for their faith and the youth rally, wanting to convey the sincere message of our faith.
Brummel took the stage again asking the crowd to not judge others, keep your faith and hold your head up. He also asked that the attendees take the time to learn from the ages. He then took on the character of 5-year-old Timmy, who reminded everyone that taking time to listen is important and to remember that no matter what God loves you.
The character Rob, a 40-something married man, reflected on prayer and how he had fallen away from God, doing what felt good at the time and not thinking about what was right. Then entered Joe, whose wife had passed away after 57 years of marriage. He explained to the crowd that, yes, some things in life don’t make sense, but believing in our faith helps us to understand and deal with these things. He also said to not ever miss a chance to tell someone that you love them and to show them through sacrifice, service and attitude.
The students then performed some thought provoking skits about remembering to include Jesus in you life and listening to him for guidance. A senior from North Augusta, Christina Hinton, shared an inspiring testimonial about her path to finding Jesus. With her story she conveyed to the attendees the importance of finding Jesus, faith and love. She told them that Jesus will always love them, and that if you let him, he can work miracles in your life.
The day was wrapped up with laughs and serious reminders for the junior high students to take with them what they learned that day: respecting others and yourself, being proud of your faith and spreading our faith’s message.
The rally was hopefully just the beginning for these students, who can look forward to the senior high youth rallies. The senior high youth rally was March 13-15, 1998, at YMCA Camp Thunderbird in Clover, S.C. The conference, “Holy Spirit – Light My Fire!!”, which was also the theme for the junior high rally, featured David Kauffman and Steve Angrisano. Both nationally known speakers told exhilarating stories and shared fun games and songs while mixing in a strong message.
Steve Angrisano, while sharing some creative, light songs and stories, also shared serious and faith-driven stories. He recalled meeting the parents of a teen-age girl from Louisiana, who had recently died on the way home from a confirmation retreat. While at the retreat, some kids, who weren’t taking the retreat seriously, tried to provoke her and her friends. She stopped them and told them, “If I die today, I know I will go to heaven. You should stop and look at where you are in your faith life.”
“This story was very moving and really hit home with the kids,” said Waters. “During the weekend I saw some real change in the kids own spirituality. I think a lot of them really blossomed that weekend.”
One of the most exciting events at the retreat that Waters noted was the tremendous turn out for reconciliation, which took place at the same time as a dance and a coffeehouse event. Of the 480 students who turned out for the retreat over 200 took advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. “Some waited for 3 hours for a priest to hear confession,” said Waters. He recalled a remark he heard from one student, who after coming out of confession said, “I feel like I can breath for the first time.”
The rallies for both the junior and senior high students were successful, in that, they conveyed the message of the Catholic faith and brought the kids together under one roof to celebrate their faith lives.