By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — For some students who attended the Diocese of Davenport’s junior high youth rally March 25, one of the biggest lessons came from fellow youths.
“This shows you you’re not the only young person when it comes to the Catholic faith,” said John Hammes, a member of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, as he was surrounded by fellow students.
“You can meet lots of new friends. Because you all share the same faith, you know you have something in common,” agreed Collin Lowry of St. Mary’s.
The boys joined about 400 other Catholics at Regina Catholic Education Center for the annual rally, whose theme this year was “Heaven: Planted in Our Hearts.” The event featured two keynote presentations from musician and storyteller Vince Nims, breakout sessions on faith-related topics, Mass, prayer, music from Leap of Faith Ministries, a skit by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC) and personal testimonies from DYMC members on maintaining and nourishing faith.
In his morning presentation, Nims, who lives in California, told youths that as a high school student he’d hoped to someday play baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But an injury prevented the young adult from making the team at Saint Mary’s College of California, and he felt his dream was crushed. He went into youth ministry instead, and years later accepted an invitation to speak at a Catholic event in Dodger Stadium.
As he prepared to step onto the field, he started crying. “That dream I’d had was coming true, only in a different way,” he said. “God told me, ‘You’re going to do this on my terms, not yours.’”
You may think you have a plan, but God has plans for you, Nims told youths. “Every time we deal with something unexpected, it can draw us closer to the Lord.”
Years ago, he found God in an unexpected encounter between his daughter Veronica and a woman who was wearing a cross and riding public transportation in California. The woman chatted with Veronica, then 5, and asked for her autograph. The child’s eyes lit up, Nims recalled during his afternoon presentation.
“This woman believed that every day, she could make someone else’s life a little better.” Faith isn’t about just you; it’s meant to be shared, he said. “There’s not a time in your life as Catholics that you won’t be asked to love others.”
Nims later shifted gears, telling youths that the most important thing they’d do that day was receive the Eucharist. “That’s the summit of our faith.”
Catholics belong to the oldest Christian church on Earth, he reminded students. “You’re in the place you’re supposed to be.”
In their afternoon breakout session titled “Bear Fruit,” DYMC members Kaitlyn O’Leary and Darcie Farrell told several eighth-graders how to make the most of their membership in the Catholic Church after confirmation. Opportunities for high school students include retreats, service trips, camps, parish youth groups, DYMC, diocesan youth rallies and the National Catholic Youth Conference. Teenagers also may serve as a lector, cantor or eucharistic minister at Mass or as a youth representative on the Diocesan Pastoral Council, O’Leary and Farrell said.
Their session was one of 11 breakouts available on topics including vocations, bullying, premarital sex, music and women in the Church.
In her breakout session Chris Behnke, a member of St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, told how her family’s farm works to respect God’s gift of animals.
Behnke Poultry gives birds space, time outdoors, opportunities to forage and feed that don’t include antibiotics or hormones.
The Lord provided animals for humans’ use, but also gave people the responsibility to care for them properly, she told about 80 youths before letting them pet a chicken, duck and rabbit.
Catholics also must tend to their spiritual wellbeing — through prayer and receiving the sacraments, Bishop Martin Amos said in his homily during Mass. “God has planted in us the seeds for holiness, watered us at baptism and fed us through the Eucharist,” he said. Family, friends and education nourish people, too.
Lauren Helle, a member of St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove, and Megan Graff, a member of St. Mary’s in Oxford, said the rally nourished their faith. “We get to learn about God while having fun,” Megan said.
She said that at home, she wanted to try praying through creating art, which she’d learned about during a breakout session.
Fellow rally participant Morgan Reddy, a member of St. Mary’s in Oskaloosa, said she enjoyed Nims’ presentations and making new friends. “This is my second year coming, and I love it so much. We have so much fun here.”