By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Battery-powered votive candles lit the way to Mass for youths participating in the Diocese of Davenport’s Junior High Rally at Regina Catholic Education Center. The lighting set the atmosphere for the wedding feast of the Gospel reading for Sunday, Oct. 15.
Whether the 167 youths got the point isn’t crucial. More importantly, they learned the value of the feast and how they are called to respond as a result of their participation. During the Mass, they listened attentively as Bishop Thomas Zinkula walked them through another feast they are quite familiar with — Thanksgiving — to help them gain a deeper appreciation of the feast of the Eucharist.
Bishop Zinkula asked the 265 gathered for Mass — junior high students, young adult organizers and adult chaperones — to think about memories of Thanksgiving feasts, step by step. What happens when people arrive at the house for the feast? They tell stories. That’s what happens in the first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, the bishop explained.
He shared descriptions from his family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. He remembered extra leafs added to the dining room table and the kids’ table being set up. “Before we eat, what do we do? We pray,” he said, making a comparison with the Eucharistic Prayer. Then everyone gathers at table to eat the fabulous feast, which probably doesn’t include Cap’n Crunch, he joked. A box of the popular kids’ cereal was among the donated food items placed at the foot of the altar for Iowa City residents in need.
As with the Thanksgiving feast, Catholics come to the table for sustenance in the Eucharist. Afterward, participants give thanks for what they have received and are sent forth to share their gratitude, their love with others. “We receive; we become the body of Christ. We need to be Christ to others,” the bishop said.
He pointed to 14 pictorial panels displayed in the makeshift chapel. The panels tell the story of the experience of immigrants and refugees and are a component of a two-year effort Pope Francis recently launched to raise awareness of and love for immigrants and refugees.
Bishop Zinkula encouraged students to welcome refugees and immigrants, and to also welcome outsiders into their circle of friends. “That’s what Jesus wants us to do,” the bishop said. “Let’s share the feast and be the feast in our daily encounters with others.”
After Mass and a rousing song and dance session with keynote performer Mathias Michael, the youths settled in for “The Bishop’s Chat.” The talk-show chat featured Bishop Zinkula as a guest responding to questions from three members of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC), which plans each year’s Junior High Rally.
DYMC members Kyrnan Liske-Rochholz of St. Ann Parish-Long Grove and Rebecca Crawford and Riley Osborne of St. Mary Parish-Grinnell enjoyed their hosting responsibilities. Rebecca researched her questions by reading articles about Bishop Zinkula in The Catholic Messenger. Among the questions she asked was how teens ought to respond to immigrants and refugees. Bishop Zinkula pointed to the panels and noted that “knowing people’s stories and seeing their faces can bring us together. …These are our brothers and sisters in Christ and we need to reach out to them.”
In response to a question about his meeting with Pope Francis after a formation program for new bishops, Bishop Zinkula joked, “Yes, we’re buddies.” Asked about the importance of sleep, the bishop urged the kids to get enough rest. He noted that he needs seven hours of sleep to function well. Finally, he was asked what advice he’d give to junior high and high school students. “Be who you are. You bring energy to the church. You have energy and joy,” the bishop said. “Our faith is a treasure. It’s the most important thing we’ve been given apart from life itself.” He encouraged the youths to share their gifts with the church and to grow in their faith, and to pray both in times of joy and sorrow.
In his keynote presentation, Michael offered the youths “four really practical ways you can leave this place confident in your faith, confident in Jesus to sustain your faith.”
The four practical tips resonated with DYMC member Kyrnan Liske-Rochholz, who summed them up: “Community, you need to get involved with your community by helping out. The next one is service, help your friends and community members out, maybe visit a shelter and volunteer there or even just help out by bringing someone Communion who couldn’t make it to Mass. Number 3 is the sacraments. That one is pretty self-explanatory. The last one is worship; don’t just worship once a week at Mass.… Do more to worship God in your life and remember your faith throughout your week and not just the 75 minutes at Mass.”
Three eighth-graders from St. Joseph Parish-DeWitt shared how the rally impacted them. “The rally allowed me to interact with lots of people my age that have the same faith that I do,” said Abby Ziemet.
“I thought it was a great way to get away from your everyday life and meet new people,” said Allie Wainwright. “I thought the breakout sessions were all good.”
“I liked meeting new people from different parishes,” Lauren Dickey said. The rally “helped me grow my faith by helping me think more about how I can get closer to God.”
“More than anything, I learned to appreciate the people who put on church events like NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) or CIA (Catholics in Action) or any other retreats,” observed DYMC member Riley Osborne. “It wasn’t until I was truly in a position of planning and initiating that I realized the amount of energy and time and work that can go into it. Junior High Rally helped me with my faith life by connecting me to a community of faith-driven young people.”