Local teens plan pilgrimage - Catholic Courier

Local teens plan pilgrimage

At least 700 people around the Diocese of Rochester are busily preparing to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference Oct. 27-30 in Atlanta, Ga. More than 100 of those pilgrims are from parishes within the Finger Lakes region, according to Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry.

That number includes both teen and adult pilgrims from Church of the Epiphany in Sodus; Our Lady of the Lakes Catholic Community; Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s parishes in Auburn and Owasco; St. Dominic’s Parish in Shortsville; St. Mary’s Parish in Canandaigua; St. Mary’s of the Lake Parish in Ontario; St. Michael’s Parish in Newark; St. Patrick’s Parish in Victor; and St. Patrick’s Parish in Macedon.

The National Catholic Youth Conference is a biennial gathering of Catholic teens from across America. The 2003 conference, which was held in Houston, Texas, drew more than 23,000 people, who took part in four days of keynote presentations, concerts, activities, discussions and sessions. Mingling with so many other Catholic teens is beneficial, said Andrea Record, religious-education coordinator and youth minister at St. Dominic’s Parish.

“It gives them that opportunity to see the larger church,” Record said. “We’re in a rather small town with a rather small parish community. I think sometimes they don’t realize the vastness of the young church.”

Catholic teens sometimes struggle with their faith, feeling like no one else their age practices their faith or attends Mass regularly, Record said. At NCYC, pilgrims realize they are not alone, and there are teens throughout the country dealing with the same struggles, she added.

The October conference will be the first for Carol May, youth-ministry coordinator at St. Mary’s of the Lake. The parish has never before sent its own group of pilgrims, although a few teens from the parish have attended past conferences with neighboring youth groups, she said.

May and her eight young pilgrims have been raising money for their journey since last August, when they brought a St. Pauly’s Textile used-clothing drop box to the parish. The need for intensive fundraising was a factor that had previously kept May from leading a group of NCYC pilgrims, she said. Once she started it, however, she found the fundraising didn’t pose “an overwhelming deterrent.”

In recent years NCYC has been promoted as a pilgrimage of faith rather than just a fun trip, and it was this spiritual emphasis that drew May to become involved with the conference.

“The way Michael Theisen has been presenting it to the parishes as a pilgrimage with a lot of preparation beforehand appeals to us,” May said.

So far the pilgrims from St. Patrick’s in Victor have mainly been concerned with fundraising for the trip, but that will soon change, said Megan Anechiarico, coordinator of youth and young-adult ministry at the parish. She hopes to gather the teen pilgrims together several times during the next few months to talk about NCYC’s various themes. This way, they’ll hopefully be more in tune with the discussions, presentations and activities they’ll take part in during the conference, she said.

Teens from Sacred Heart and St. Ann’s parishes have already begun their spiritual preparation. The Auburn youth group formed a partnership with the youth group of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport after the 2003 conference, and the two groups will be going to Atlanta together.

The pilgrims got together at the Fairport parish June 30 and broke into groups, which will be their prayer groups in Atlanta, said Anna Comitz, youth minister at Sacred Heart, St. Ann’s and St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn. Within their groups they took part in a number of community-building activities, including one in which each group built a structure out of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti, then tried to see if the structure would support the weight of a paperback New Testament. After the activities, the teens regrouped for prayer and spiritual discussion.

The teens are excited about NCYC because they’ve heard that it’s OK to talk about their faith with their peers there and because they’re hoping to deepen their relationship with God, said Michelle Hunzek, youth minister at St. John of Rochester.

Andrew Collier, 21, has been to NCYC before and will serve as an adult chaperone in Atlanta. He had some simple advice for first-time pilgrims.

“Be a sponge. Soak it all in. The entire thing is just amazing,” said Collier, who belongs to Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart parishioner Katie DeLuca, a high-school freshman, said she is looking forward to meeting new people, experiencing new things and renewing her faith in God. Sophomore Liz Molloy, also from Sacred Heart, said she thinks seeing so many other people with the same beliefs will help her understand what it means to be Catholic.

There is not an overwhelming number of teens involved with youth ministry at St. Patrick’s, which is in a rebirth stage, Anechiarico said. She hopes pilgrims will return from NCYC full of excitement about their faith and their conference experiences. Hopefully this excitement will be contagious and spread to other teens, she said.

“They’ll hear what it’s like to go to a big event, to go beyond what we’re doing at the parish level,” Anechiarico said.

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