PORTLAND – A summer afternoon of fun activities, prayer, music and Mass provided a spiritual boost for 220 young people who made the trip to St. Mary Church in Portland July 24 for the first-ever World Youth Day CT.
The regional event brought together middle school and high school kids from the Archdiocese of Hartford and the Diocese of Norwich for a combined stateside celebration of World Youth Day with the theme “Bridges of Mercy.
The day began with spirited music by the Connecticut folk band Jerusalem Road, followed by an opening prayer and youth-led readings on the topic of mercy.
Pope Francis made a brief appearance. He danced onstage – in cardboard cutout form – along with youth ministers Shawnee Baldwin of the Archdiocese of Hartford and Liza Roach of the Diocese of Norwich. The real Pope Francis also appeared onscreen in a promotional video about World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, and discussed the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Ms. Roach asked the youth to reflect on the theme of mercy. “What is mercy?” she asked. “It’s doing more justice and more love than is expected, loving your neighbor as you love yourself.”
Catholic speaker and guitarist Cooper Ray led the attendees in song, and had all in the pews on their feet singing, “J-E-S-U-S, he’s the best!
During his presentation, Mr. Ray advised the youngsters to look inward, to be their authentic selves and to strive be the best they can be. “We’re a culture that always looks to somebody else, but when we spend our time looking out, we become something that we’re not,” he cautioned.
He told the young people that as Catholics, they need to follow Jesus and to stand up for him, even though it may mean being different from many of their peers. After showing an onscreen image of a school of fish, he said, “I’m challenging you to go against the flow.”
Teams of attendees then participated in interactive works-of-mercy projects placed in various spots in the church, in the school and on the church grounds.
At one spiritual-works station, the young youth teams encountered an icon of Jesus in front of the tabernacle and knelt in prayer. At one corporal-works station on hunger, they were challenged to balance a cookie on their forehead and to tilt their head in an effort to get the cookie to slide into their mouth.
The day culminated in a vigil Mass celebrated by Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote. The Mass was concelebrated by Father Paul Boudreau, pastor of the hosting parish, and Msgr. Kevin Randall, counselor at the Apostolic Nunciature in Pretoria, South Africa. Deacons Jorge Escalona and Dana Garry were also in attendance.
In his homily, Bishop Cote advised the young people to do the following: to reach out to God confidently in prayer; to forgive others as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer; to accept God’s love as one of his children; and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
On the subject of mercy, Bishop Cote asked the young people to demonstrate love to others even when it’s inconvenient “because going that extra mile is showing Christ-like mercy.”
At the end of the Mass, Father Boudreau invited everyone to an upcoming Holy Hour for vocations and asked the boys to consider a vocation to the priesthood. “Priests are the happiest men I know,” he said. “And if you’re really good at it, you may become a bishop.”
After Mass, attendees mentioned the music, the interactive mercy projects and Bishop Cote as highlights of the special day.
Father Boudreau was also pleased with the event. “To host this for all of these kids from all over Connecticut is a big thrill for us. We’re happy to do it,” he said. “We’re happy to host the bishop, too.”