Helping young people build a relationship with Jesus Christ at Youth 2000

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen / Correspondent

Photos by Donna Ryckaert and Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

May 10, 2013

Father Maximilian Stelmachowski, CFR, leads teens in an interactive song during this year's Youth 2000 Retreat at Nolan Catholic High School. (Photo by Donna Ryckaert/NTC)

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Youth 2000 retreats put on by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal tackle issues and problems facing today’s young people, but Brother Crispin Rinaldi’s message of hope and life held special meaning for one group visiting from a Houston-area parish whose youth ministry is mourning the recent suicide of a 15-year-old member of their group.

The group’s youth minister said the youth are dealing with feelings of guilt. “We’re hoping the retreat talks help them,” he said.

Br. Crispin advised those attending the April 5-7 retreat to “go to the chapel. Go to the Scriptures. Turn to Jesus when you’re facing life’s choices in despair. Suicide is a lie.”

Addressing a hushed crowd of more than 1,300 young people seated on the floor of Nolan Catholic High School’s Hartnett Arena, the speaker told his listeners to reach out to friends wrestling with depression or dark thoughts.

“Never give anyone space who is struggling with despair or thoughts of suicide,” he cautioned. “Step in. Be proactive. You have to hold that person up and bring them to someone who can help. And let us pray for our brothers and sisters who have passed from suicide.”

Helping young people build a relationship with Jesus Christ so life has meaning and purpose is at the heart of the Youth 2000 retreat. This year’s gathering brought together 20 youth groups from the Diocese of Fort Worth with teens and young adults from Dallas, Denison, Wylie, and other outlying areas.

Started in 1990 as a response to the challenge of Pope John Paul II to “become shining heralds of the re-evangelization and generous architects of the civilization of love,” Youth 2000 includes Mass, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, prayer, talks, music, and fellowship. Diocesan Administrator Monsignor Stephen Berg celebrated Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday for the assembly.

To help the assembly focus on God during the Eucharist-centered retreat, young people and their chaperones sit on the arena floor surrounding an imposing, tiered platform of candles, an altar for a gold monstrance bearing a consecrated host. For many young people, the high point of the weekend is the Saturday evening Eucharistic Procession when the priest carries the monstrance through the crowd of worshippers. The veneration of the Eucharist moving among them reinforces the belief that God is real and truly present in their lives.

The friars call the Saturday evening ritual a “healing service.” As the priest approaches different youth groups with the Blessed Sacrament, young people can touch the humeral veil he uses to hold the monstrance.

“It’s much like what people did in the Gospels. When Jesus walked on earth 2,000 years ago; the people who touched his cloak were healed,” explains Father Maximilian Stelmachowski, CFR, who served as the retreat’s emcee.

Through inspirational talks, testimonies, and worship, the weekend encourages participants to explore their personal relationship with Jesus.

“‘This is Jesus. What’s your relationship with Him’ is what we ask them to think about,” the friar adds. “If it’s not good, how can we get it better? If it is good, how can we help it grow?”

Sara Clark called the Eucharistic Procession “beautiful.”

“It’s my favorite part of the retreat,” said the teenager from St. Peter Parish in Lindsay. “People expect this to just be a “fun” weekend, but it turns out to be so moving and powerful.”

This was Clark’s fourth Youth 2000 retreat.

“Every time I come I get more out of it,” she added. “I’ve learned to look for God in my everyday life.”

Small group sessions provide a forum where youth can talk about faith or other issues confronting teens in modern society. Many topics addressed during the 2013 retreat were gleaned from today’s headlines.

Presenter Doug Pearson developed talking points workshop leaders used to present the Church’s position on subjects like same-sex marriage and abortion.

“The Church’s teachings on human sexuality are spelled out beautifully, truthfully, and charitably in the Catechism,” said the director of Guadalupe Radio operations who encouraged workshop leaders to become familiar with the Catechism of the Cathlolic Church. “When you expose young people to the truth, it has a remarkable effect of taking care of many of the misapprehensions they have.”

Teenagers are hungry for information.

“If we give them a foundation, they are far more comfortable sharing that information with the world,” he insists. “They’re not going to stand on a soap box in their high schools, but if they can live out the truth of the faith, their example is a far better witness than anything we could accomplish by turning them into street corner evangelists.”

Catherine Fleitman, a freshman at Sacred Heart High School in Muenster, actively participated in the workshop discussions. She liked sharing thoughts about “having faith” with others in her group.

“It’s nice knowing Jesus is always there and grace will help us get to heaven,” says the 15-year-old, sharing her simple philosophy. “I try to look for the good in others. Coming to retreats like this helps me keep that positive attitude.”

Youth 2000 retreats put on by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal tackle issues and problems facing today’s young people, but Brother Crispin Rinaldi’s message of hope and life held special meaning for one group visiting from a Houston-area parish whose youth ministry is mourning the recent suicide of a 15-year-old member of their group.

Published (until 5/31/2014)