ROCHESTER — Sometimes, you have to wear a gorilla suit and play guitar if you want to make a theological statement.
Just ask Sam Brasley, a 14-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. On the evening of April Fool’s Day, Sam dressed up as a gorilla and performed his hit single “God Is” at Faith Fest, which was held at St. Michael’s Church and sponsored by the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis.
In a style that combined folk rock, grunge and the wailing of a hungry abandoned cat, Sam banged away on his guitar, singing and screeching “Jesus is my buddy, my savior and my pal,” to an appreciative audience of about 100 teen and adult Catholics in St. Michael’s parish hall. In an interview with the aspiring rocker after his performance, Sam said he played in a band and that he wore the gorilla suit in honor of April Fool’s Day. His profound spiritual testimony was appreciated by Melissa Adkins, a 16-year-old parishioner at Holy Rosary Church, who noted that the boy-ape on stage was one reason she decided to attend Faith Fest.
“You get to meet new people — that, and the fact that Sam is singing ‘God Is.'”
Sam wasn’t the only fool for Christ who performed at the Faith Fest, which began with a Mass and ended with a talent show in the parish hall. Sam’s 11-year-old brother, Benjamin, told a joke: “What does the Easter Bunny’s helper get for making baskets? Two points, like everyone else.”
The singing primate and his joke-telling brother shared center stage with singers and drummers, as well as liturgical dancers from Immaculate Conception Church, who also danced during the Mass. Faith Fest, which was free and designed for diocesan Catholics between the ages of 12 and 18, also featured party games, food and refreshments.
Melanie Reyes, a 15-year-old who attends Corpus Christi Church, said she enjoyed the fact that Faith Fest made church a place for fun.
“I like stuff that brings all the youth together,” Melanie said. “We don’t really have stuff like this religiously, and this is a good way to do it.”
Lynette De Jesus, diocesan coordinator of urban youth ministry, said the purpose of Faith Fest is to show teenagers a good time and to celebrate Mass together. She noted that this year’s event drew young people from the parishes of Sacred Heart, Holy Rosary, Most Precious Blood, St. Michael’s, Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Immaculate Conception.
Singer Ashley Brass, a 17-year-old Immaculate Conception parishioner, said she thought it was “nice that people can show off their talents and praise God, and, at the same time, enjoy doing it.” She added that the fest was also notable for bringing together students of different cultural backgrounds.
One 15-year-old, Sheina Kirshblum, said that she was an atheist, but still enjoyed coming to church events like Faith Fest, which she did at the invitation of a friend.
“Instead of being bored at my house, I come here and chill,” she said.
On the other end of the spectrum of faith, Josue Arias, who turns 13 on May 18, said he came to Faith Fest to attend the Mass and pray for Pope John Paul II, who died the next day. A St. Michael’s parishioner, Josue is a Cuban immigrant who participated in the offertory procession at the Faith Fest Mass, and who noted with pride that his birthday and that of the late pope’s were the same. A fan of the Eternal Word Television Network, Josue said he is interested in all things Catholic.
“I want to be a priest,” Arias said. “I want to be a man to follow Christ. I like to be a man to follow Christ, who helps the poor and helped the thirsty.”
Josue added that he may be harboring lofty aspirations.
“I’ve got to work hard and do a lot of work so I can be the … pope of the Roman Catholic Church,” he said with a smile.