By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — When Orin Johnson was 4 years old, he thought he found the answer to how he should pray.
At Mass one day, he saw an image in a missalette of a person with raised arms accompanied by the words, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.” So he went home, threw his arms up and prayed those words — and waited for a response.
When no voice came from the heavens, he tried again. Eventually, he gave up, but the unsettling experience lingered in his memory for years.
After growing older, “I realized maybe I was looking for an answer in the wrong spot,” he told about 450 people at the Davenport Diocese’s junior high youth rally March 20. Instead of waiting for a voice from above, look to the community of faith around you, he said. God dwells in those people. “Our challenge is to see in them what God sees.”
Johnson and Shannon Cerneka, who make up music duo Oddwalk Ministries, spoke, played instruments and led youths in song during two presentations at Regina Catholic Education Center during the rally, whose theme was “Peace, Love, Jesus.” The day also included 14 options for breakout sessions for youths on faith-related topics; a skit by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC); stories from DYMC members who’d found peace, love and Jesus; Mass with Bishop Martin Amos and music from the band “1 of 12.”
Catholics must trust and rely on God as much as children trust and rely on their parents, said Cerneka, a husband and father. “We must be willing to surrender control and say, ‘Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.’”
Later, in the morning breakout session “Praying in Color,” about 30 students drew images surrounding the names of people needing prayers. Sometimes, it’s easier to pray through art than with words, said Pat Sheil, who led the workshop and serves as faith formation director at St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. Other breakout sessions, several of which were led by DYMC members, explored topics including how to spread the pro-life message, finding peace, the saints, modesty and strengthening your relationship with God.
The Lord can use us despite our flaws, Johnson said in an afternoon presentation. He shared the story of a man who knowingly used a leaking pot to carry water to his village. “Why do you still use me, as imperfect as I am?” the pot asked. The man then showed it all the flowers and plants that had grown along his path — thanks to water they received from the leaking vessel. “I, the master, see much more than you do with your own eyes … I can use you in ways beyond your imagination.”
The incompleteness of human judgment also came up later in the breakout session “Coping with Cliques,” during which about 25 youths explored the differences between cliques and friendships. After an exercise in which students also discussed social hierarchies at their schools, they voiced distaste for labels. But some students confessed to judging people based on their appearance.
“We’re not perfect,” said breakout leader Mary Orman, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Ottumwa. She said she still remembers the names of mean boys and girls from her middle school decades ago. “That tells you it matters how we treat other people.”
Pay kindness forward, Orman said. “When you start treating people respectfully, it will come back to you.”
The rally offered many suggestions for building a relationship with God, said student Caitlyn Oliger, a member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. “It doesn’t just get you fired up about your faith here, but shows you how to go home and keep living it out.”
Her companion Precious Bradley, who is going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children at the cathedral parish, especially enjoyed Oddwalk Ministries’ interactive presentations. “The rally is a lot of fun, and you get to learn more about God.”
Audrey Simpson, a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton who’s interested in missionary work, said she was inspired by a breakout session on DeWitt parishioner Mitchell Lincoln’s year in Rwanda. The rally “was a good opportunity to be with other Catholic Iowans,” she said.