Rochester teens flock to Faith Fest - Catholic Courier

Rochester teens flock to Faith Fest

ROCHESTER — There were plenty of Mardi Gras celebrations around town
Feb. 20-21, and the Urban Faith Fest was no exception. Stirring music
and dancing highlighted Friday’s opening-night activities, and Saturday
participants received shiny, colorful necklaces in keeping with Mardi
Gras tradition.

Yet an extra dimension, not commonly associated with Mardi Gras
fetes, existed at Holy Family Parish: High spirits were accompanied by
strong spirituality. This appealing mix helped make the second annual
festival, for youths ages 12-18, the most highly attended program in
the three-year history of the diocesan Office of Urban Youth
Ministry.

Holy Family Church was filled for Friday night’s opening event, a
multicultural Mass celebrated by Bishop Matthew H. Clark. Music was
provided by the St. Bridget’s Parish Gospel Choir, with liturgical
dancers from Immaculate Conception Parish also taking part. Afterward,
a talent show in the Holy Family School auditorium drew nearly 200
youth and adults, according to Lynette DeJesus, diocesan coordinator of
urban youth ministry. Performances included Caribbean and African dance
by the Immaculate Conception dancers; singing by youth-group members of
St. Andrew’s Parish; a Gospel rap by Pedro Nunez of Our Lady of Mount
Carmel Parish; and piano music by D.J. Fiorito of St. Anne Parish.

“This place was full. It was so exciting, It was really affirming to
see all the people there, just supporting the kids,” DeJesus said.

Many Friday-night attendees returned to Holy Family for the Saturday
program. It began with an appearance by Dr. David Anderson of the Black
Storytelling League of Rochester, who emphasized the importance of
knowing one’s family and cultural history. Then came a series of
small-group activities in which participants joined with volunteers
from the Diocesan Youth Committee, exploring such themes as
self-identity; strengths and weaknesses; selflessness; community;
communication; and overcoming obstacles.

Chavone Vega, 14, said she particularly enjoyed an exercise where
her small group was blindfolded and had to help each other undo a rope.
The teamwork aspect was valuable to her, she said, because “I don’t
really trust a lot of people or work with a lot of people.”

“It’s very interesting, how everybody gets along — no hatred, it’s
a community. There’s no arguing. Everybody connects to each other,”
observed Chavone, a parishioner in Rochester’s Flower City-Lexington
parishes.

Chavone said this comfortable atmosphere helped her regard the Faith
Fest as an event “pretty much where I can let go and be myself.” She
also found herself growing closer to God during the weekend, saying she
realized that “If ever there is a problem you could always go to him.
He’s there all the time.”

Rafael Walker, 13, also said the Faith Fest helped him grow in his
faith, inspiring him to “put it to the next level.” In addition, he
said, “I started to feel more self-confidence. I know I can achieve
anything in any situation.”

Like Chavone, Rafael said he gained inspiration from the friendly
environment. “(At first) I didn’t know anybody, but it’s been pretty
easy,” said Rafael, a parishioner of St. Bridget’s.

The program at Holy Family put the same emphasis on prayer,
discussion, music and dancing as the inaugural Urban Faith Fest held
last May. Yet although that festival was successfully led by Sal Solo
— a vibrant Catholic musician who will also keynote the Diocesan Youth
Convention Aug. 27-29 — DeJesus said she opted this time for more
inclusive segments, such as a talent show, rather than a keynoter.

“We wanted it so there would be more of an opportunity to
participate,” DeJesus explained, adding that “we just wanted to
showcase the diversity. I would like people to feel this experience has
opened their eyes to the diversity in the church, what other people
have to offer.”

DeJesus estimated that more than 20 parishes were represented at
Holy Family. She said the Faith Fest was geared primarily toward urban
parishes, but that all were welcome. Among the suburban parishes on
hand was St. Paul’s in Webster, which had a satisfied participant in
Alana Capogreco.

“I’ve had a great time, meeting the bishop and getting to know all
these people,” said Alana, 15. “It’s great to get to know new
people.”

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