ROCHESTER — Teenagers camped out in sleeping bags at Sacred Heart Cathedral’s former convent March 1, quietly watching a movie and being uncharacteristically docile. But that was understandable, since they were going on 26 hours without food.
Teens involved in the Cathedral Community’s youth ministry took part in a Feb. 29 to March 1 30-hour famine, which was intended to raise their awareness of global hunger. The teens broke their fast following the cathedral’s 4 p.m. Mass March 1.
As for how they felt as they neared the end of the fast, 13-year-old Ben Pegoni of Rochester, a seventh-grader at Wilson Foundation Academy, quickly said he was hungry. He had last eaten at 10:30 a.m. the day before.
But fellow youth-group member Montanna Skye Williams, 14, of Lima, a freshman at Our Lady of Mercy High School, said the fast wasn’t really that bad.
“It hurts to be really hungry, but children in Africa are hungry every day and are going through this,” she said.
This was Montanna’s second time taking part in such a fast. She had participated in a similar event with a different youth group, and when she joined the Cathedral Community group this year, she suggested members give it a try.
“It’s something that really changed my perspective,” Montanna said.
Rather than simply trying to avoid hunger pangs, the teens kept busy throughout the overnight event.
Each sported multicolored thumbs from using colored ink to stamp 29,000 thumbprints on a sheet of paper. This illustrated the point that, according to statistics from Bread for the World, 29,000 children worldwide die of malnutrition and other preventable diseases each day.
They also made 1,208 crosses out of craft sticks to symbolize the number of children worldwide who die of hunger in an hour. The youth group spoke after the 4 p.m. Mass and gave away the crosses in exchange for more than $300 in donations that they will donate to Catholic Relief Services.
“We didn’t start out with the intention of this being fundraising,” said Belinda Brasley, youth-ministry coordinator, noting that the idea evolved as the group made plans for the fast.
In addition to the teens Brasley and her husband, Deacon John Brasley, took part in the famine, as well as three college students who often take part in the group’s activities.
Later on in the spring, the teens are planning another fundraiser: a dance marathon to benefit those displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan. But during that event, the teens will be able to eat, Brasley said.
In addition to reflecting on hunger during the fast, the teens also reflected on the violence that has affected the neighborhoods around the Cathedral Community, which comprises Sacred Heart Cathedral and Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood churches. They took an evening prayer walk, journeying to different places near the cathedral then stopping to pray.
“I thought it was very prayerful,” Ben said. “I felt very sorry for all the victims that had been killed throughout all the country.”
The teens stopped at Marshall High School to pray for the seniors and other students that they might finish their high-school education. They prayed at the Rochester Fire Department for firefighters who put their lives at risk to save others. They prayed at Aquinas Institute on behalf of all Catholic schools, and they prayed in front of the cathedral.
“(The prayer walk) was going to be longer, but it was too cold,” said Joey Bay of Irondequoit, 16, a sophomore at Aquinas Institute. Temperatures on the prayer walk were in the single digits.
The teens said doing the famine as a group helped them get through the hungry hours.
“If other people can do it, you can do it,” Ben stated.
“Being with friends and having fun helped us not think about food,” Joey said.