By Celine Klosterman
CORALVILLE — Sometimes, you attend church simply because you have to, Abigail Thill observed.
But the Davenport Diocese’s high school youth rally made her want to attend church, said the teenager from Church of All Saints in Keokuk.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said of the event. Participants get to meet other faith-filled Catholics their age and make new friends, she added.
Thill was among 650 people who attended the diocese’s annual rally Oct. 24 at the Coralville Marriott Conference Center. With a theme of “Finish the Race: Be Exalted,” the event featured two keynote presentations from “Christian vaudeville” duo APeX, 17 breakout sessions on faith-related topics for youths, Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee recognition awards, Mass with Bishop Martin Amos and diocesan priests, music from Christian band 1 of 12, a dance and games.
In their morning presentation, Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli of APeX warmed up the crowd with a little juggling and plate-spinning. Farmer then transitioned into a talk about spiritual “superheroes” — the saints. “Why did they have a superpower the rest of us don’t seem to have?” he asked. They chose it, he said. “Nothing they had isn’t available to us.”
“I honestly believe the miraculous is in front of us right now,” he continued. We may just not choose to see it.
“How often have you heard the Scripture proclaimed at Sunday Mass and thought about what you’re going to eat for breakfast?” The liturgy offers us an encounter with the supernatural, Monterastelli said.
He also spoke about the power of prayer. Reciting some prayers, such as the rosary, can be like learning to juggle, he said. It takes time to get into the rhythm of them.
He described a spiritual experience he’d had while praying intensely for his sister, who had cerebral palsy and other disabilities and had just gone into shock. Suddenly, he had a vision of her running and he felt great peace. He later discovered that right about the time he had that vision, she died.
Monterastelli urged youths to take advantage of their spiritual potential. “Become what you were created to be.”
Later, in the breakout session “Powerful Choices,” Rachel Owen spoke to 11 girls about purity and being pro-life. Director of the pro-life Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City, Owen encouraged youths to set boundaries before they face temptation — or make new boundaries if teens have already succumbed to that temptation. “Our God is the God of second chances. He forgives you and loves you so much.”
Owen also discussed fetal development and encouraged youths to honor life. She said people need to be sensitive as they spread the pro-life message, since women who hear that message may be hurting after having an abortion. “Scripture tells us to love, not be judgmental.”
If you find yourself pregnant, “Stay close to God. He will carry you through it.”
After the session, Owen consoled a youth who approached her in tears.
Later, during an afternoon presentation, APeX touched on overcoming obstacles. Monterastelli wriggled out of a straitjacket onstage, then held up the restraint. “Because we’re people of faith, we can see these things in new ways.”
He shared the legend of a poor, Italian orphan named Giovanni. On Christmas, after people placed gifts by a statue of Mary and baby Jesus in a church, Giovanni offered all he had — a juggling performance. The show brought a smile to the statues’ faces.
“When you bring joy to another person, you bring joy to God,” Monterastelli said. Similarly, when you treat someone poorly, you sin against God. We’re all connected to each other and our creator — and that concept is central to Christianity, the speaker said.
He encouraged youths to be faithful even in small, everyday actions.
After his presentation, the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee separately awarded teenager Phoebe Yetley and adult Chris Weber for their advancement of comprehensive youth ministry. (See more information at the end of this story). Following the awards presentation, about 30 youths attended a breakout session in which they learned to make 10-knot rosary chaplets from colored cords. Roy and Roberta Wilson, members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, have led the workshop at several youth rallies and said their ministry makes about 1,000 rosaries a year to send to people worldwide.
After making her rosary chaplet, Ann Menner, a youth from St. Mary Parish in Grinnell, said she appreciates the many breakout sessions offered at the rally. “You can decide what you want to learn about. They’re always good.”
Menner’s fellow parishioner Ben Cunningham highlighted the day’s keynote presentations. “I’ve been to these rallies three times, and I can remember something from every speech.”
Lexy Orr, a member of Church of All Saints in Keokuk, was pleasantly surprised by her experience at the rally. “I didn’t think this would be fun, but it really was.” She said she’s used to a very traditional Mass, but enjoyed the liturgical celebration with band 1 of 12’s music in Coralville. “I liked how this is more upbeat.”
Her fellow parishioner Megan Brackelsberg also was impressed. “It’s cool to see how many youths are involved in the Church in southeast Iowa,” she said.
Yetley, Weber receive youth ministry awards
Phoebe Yetley, a youth from St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, has taken part in numerous youth retreats and the Christian Leadership Institute, launched a peer mentoring program for students with special needs, helped found a youth service board and led efforts to fundraise for a classmate who had family in Haiti during the country’s earthquake earlier this year. She has helped organize the blood drives at West High in Iowa City, served on the executive board of the school’s student senate, and been heavily involved in the Dance Marathon for charity at the University of Iowa. “Her enthusiasm is contagious… she has enhanced the lives of so many,” said Pat Finan, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry and faith formation.
Chris Weber, director of youth and young adult ministry at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, helped form and oversee the growth of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee; has led the Christian Leadership Institute, catechetical sessions at the Catholics in Action service retreat and technology workshops for faith formation leaders; and has been a Teens Encounter Christ retreat director. He has presented workshops at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry and the National Catholic Youth Conference, and helped launch the executive committee of the National Association of Catholic Youth Ministry Leaders, which he later served on. “He has been a role model and mentor to me,” said Pat Sheil, youth minister and director of religious education at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt.