By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — As music from “The Hunger Games” movie played in the background, Catholics processed into the gym at Regina Junior/Senior High School carrying banners representing the Diocese of Davenport’s six “districts,” or deaneries.
“Today we celebrate The Thirsty Games,” said emcee Tommy Fallon, citing the theme of the diocesan junior high rally. “We come together and recognize that Christ is who we thirst for.”
The March 23 event borrowed elements from the popular book and movie series “The Hunger Games,” including the term “districts,” which describes the areas in which the characters live. The rally’s theme also alluded to the day’s Scripture readings, which told of a Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at a well and of Moses drawing water from a rock.
About 310 people attended the rally, which included two keynote presentations from the duo Oddwalk Ministries, “discipleship training” sessions, prayer, games, and Mass with Bishop Martin Amos and several priests.
Orin Johnson of Oddwalk Ministries began his morning presentation by recalling how he first prayed “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will” at age 4. “I thought that would get an immediate answer from God,” he said. But the young Johnson heard no response.
Years later, he realized a person’s faith community may be the answer to his or her prayers. “God is down here with us,” Johnson said.
Jesus wants his disciples to rely on him as children rely completely on their parents, said Shannon Cerneka of Oddwalk Ministries. When Christians do so, they can confidently say, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”
In a discipleship training session later, church design consultant Gale Francione led about 45 youths in exploring the connection between the visual arts and prayer. Her session was one of 19 that students could choose from throughout the day on topics including relationships, talents, the Mass and making true friends.
A member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, Francione showed youths different images of Jesus and discussed students’ reactions to them. Sometimes, artists pray as they create, she noted. She then asked students to reflect on and draw what they thirsted for.
In the afternoon, Johnson challenged youths to consider how God might use them — even with their imperfections. To spark their imaginations, the presenter shared a story of a leaky bucket whose owner managed to use it to water flowers as he walked. “What you see as something worthless, I see as something that could bring beauty to the world. That’s what God wants to say to us,” Johnson said.
The Lord needs people to go where he calls them, Cerneka said. The speaker told how he once said yes, reluctantly, to an invitation to join volunteers at a worksite in a Mexican slum. There he found a moment of joy in teaching a boy how to field a ground ball. “God says, ‘You have to trust me.’ That’s discipleship.”
Catholics need “defense strategies” to maintain faith amid life’s challenges, Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee Member Shanlie Phillips and co-presenter Mason Tope told 40 youths in a discipleship training session. After acting out a skit in which a non-Catholic challenged a Catholic’s beliefs, the presenters listed a few spiritual “weapons”: the Eucharist, reconciliation, the Church, Mary and the Holy Spirit.
Several students from Church of All Saints in Keokuk said they appreciated a discipleship training session in which they learned how to avoid making choices that might lead to regret. “I learned that your body is a temple,” Lane Johnston said.
At the rally, “you get to learn about many different things, depending on what session you go to,” Austin Brown said.
For student Anna Hemann of St. Mary’s in West Point, a highlight of the day was a discipleship training session in which she learned to “tell God what you’re really thinking. He can help you if you tell him,” she said. During the rally, “you get to meet new people, and it’s a fun way to connect with other people from your church,” she added.