ROCHESTER — Michael Martinez had first seen Tony Melendez perform from afar during the 2003 National Catholic Youth Conference in Houston. Michael’s seat at Sacred Heart Cathedral was much better — only a few rows from the small stage where this unique recording artist was playing.
Which is truly a lucky break, because Melendez is the type of performer you’d want to view up close — close enough to see his toes.
Melendez, an internationally renowned musician, is widely noted for playing the guitar with his feet — a skill he developed due to being born with no arms. Michael, an avid guitarist himself, said he has never tried playing that way and was amazed that Melendez could pull it off.
“It’s great, I love it. He’s just amazing,” Michael exclaimed, excitedly showing off some Tony Melendez CDs he had just bought.
Michael, who belongs to Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s parishes in the southeast corner of the diocese, obviously felt that his trip to Rochester on May 20 was time well spent. He left Tioga County at the crack of dawn to start out for the first-ever diocesan “Senior Scene,” held at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The day brought together approximately 250 diocesan high-school seniors, including a sizeable amount from the Southern Tier with all five Tier counties represented: Tioga, Chemung, Schuyler, Tompkins and Steuben. Of particular note was a 15-member contingent from Elmira Notre Dame High School with whom Michael and his youth minister, Sue White, bused to Rochester.
Upon arrival at the cathedral, teens were treated to an array of guest speakers, all of whom emphasized the theme of vocations as graduating seniors prepare to head off to college, military duty or employment.
Angie Franzese, from Schuyler Catholic Community, enjoyed the event because she said it put her “together with a group of the diocese, with people my age.”
Bishop Matthew H. Clark may not be the same age — he graduated from high school 50 years ago — but he can very much relate to the teens during this transitional time of life.
“I can still remember some of the feeling, some of the concerns, some of the doubts — all of the excitement,” the bishop told the gathering.
Bishop Clark and other speakers urged the group to leave their hearts and minds open to God — and by doing so, they’re more likely to find their respective vocations.
“There are vocations in this room — to the priesthood, religious life, marriage, the single life. I know it,” emphasized Father Joseph Marcoux, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart. He said God’s call to a vocation might not be clear just yet, but that the voice should be acknowledged.
“Trust God. Let him come right through you,” Father Marcoux suggested. “If you have that gnawing in your gut, don’t ignore it — because you’ll never really be happy in this world if you do.”
Father Marcoux described the steps that led to his becoming ordained a priest in 2001. Similar presentations were made by Laura Bishop, who is currently in formation with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester; and Shannon Loughlin, diocesan director of young-adult and campus ministry, who reflected on her vocation of marriage.
Melendez told participants that the call to his music vocation was issued by the late Pope John Paul II. He recalled being greeted with a kiss by the pope in Los Angeles in 1987, as well as John Paul’s words, “Use what you have.”
“That was the day my life changed,” Melendez said.
Whatever one’s vocation, Father Marcoux said it is ideally “where you find the joy and the perfect fit.” He noted his strong, ongoing love for the priesthood, whereas Bishop Clark said he has “no doubt that the I have found the call the Lord held up for me.” The bishop added that 43 years after becoming a priest, “it’s still beautiful.”
Senior Scene lasted nearly five hours. Michael said he spent a lot of that time reflecting on possible vocations, such as devoting himself more deeply to his parish’s music ministry, being an extraordinary minister of holy Communion or being involved in Stephen Ministry — a group of parish volunteers who support people in crisis.
Angie, who will turn 19 on June 29, plans to study nursing when she begins at Corning Community College this fall. Asked if that profession qualifies as a vocation, she said, “Definitely — because it’s helping people.”
Michael, 17, will attend Broome Community College to begin pursuing a psychology degree, with perhaps a career as a guidance counselor looming in the distance.
“It could be considered a vocation — I’d be helping kids with problems,” he pointed out.
Asked how he would define a vocation, Michael responded with a profound play on words.
“If you change the ‘o’ to an ‘a’, it’s kind of like what a vocation might be — taking a vacation from what you wanted to do, and doing what God wants you to do,” he said.