By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published June 17, 2004
At the teen track for the 2004 Eucharistic Congress, the evidence of the infectious spirit was everywhere.
Teens crowding the stage to demonstrate hand motions to songs performed by Ed Bolduc and Band, and the many adults who mingled with the 16- and 17-year-old attendees were just a few of the reasons why many said the teen track was the hottest place to be on June 12. The charismatic atmosphere was on fire.
The track featured speakers Jason Evert and Jeff Cavins, as well as popular Catholic performers APeX Ministries. Paul George served as emcee.
Ushered in by the energetic beats of Bolduc and Band, teens filled the large room, dancing in the aisles and raising their hands in praise.
Evert kicked off the morning by making the teens seriously think about chastity.
Infusing humor and anecdotes, Evert encouraged the teens to remain chaste until marriage. Demonstrating the age-old teenage question—“How far is too far to go with my boyfriend or girlfriend?”—Evert asked for a male volunteer. The teen who was chosen towered over Evert, who made the young man don a blonde wig as he picked him up and carried him to the end of the stage.
“Let’s pretend we’re on a date and we’re going to the Grand Canyon, and I’m taking you to the edge,” Evert said, as the teens giggled at the sight of the small Evert struggling with the tall teen in his arms. “How far is too close to the edge? You see, none of us guys would take a girl to a dangerous place and take her too far that we’d try to kill her.”
Evert, 26, who holds a master’s degree in theology and counseling and a minor in philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, works as a full-time apologist for Catholic Answers, a nonprofit organization in San Diego, Calif. He is the author of “Pure Love,” which challenges young people to embrace chastity. He and his wife, Crystalina, often speak together and have presented chastity and apologetics workshops to thousands of teens across the country.
Evert encouraged the teens to take Jesus with them on their dates and to imagine Jesus with them in the back seat of the car and walking up to the front porch with their dates.
He also gave advice to those teens and those in the audience who had already lost their virginity.
“Even if you are not a virgin, regardless of your past, make the commitment to wait until marriage,” he said. “If you do, you triple the odds of a successful marriage. It’s not about calling you to condemnation. It’s about calling you to a better kind of love.”
Teen boys, he said have been given the wrong message.
“All of us guys have been lied to about our manhood. We hear that if you want to be a man, you have to conquer women sexually,” he said. “But us Christian guys know that that totally misses the point.”
He also encouraged the girls to embrace modesty, which he said, has “nothing to do with looking ugly.”
“You have the power to turn a guy’s head, but you also have the power to turn a guy’s heart,” he said. “A veil of modesty invites a guy to believe and know that you are so much more than just a body.”
Chastity becomes less of a struggle if Catholics remain close to the sacraments, particularly reconciliation and the Eucharist, Evert said. By encouraging their boyfriends or girlfriends to wait for sex, he said, teens will know the truth about love.
“Love can’t wait to give and lust can’t wait to get,” he said. “Only when you put love to the test can you find out its true value.”
T.J. Bogan, an upcoming senior from Holy Family Church in Marietta, enjoyed Evert’s talk.
“(I heard him speak before) when he and his wife were just engaged,” he said. “It was cool to hear him speak as a married guy. He’s definitely a great speaker. He really gets into it.”
Jeff Cavins, author and radio and TV host, greeted the teens as they returned to the track after lunch. The Catholic convert talked to them about giving their gifts to God.
He spoke of a profound experience that affected him in sixth grade. A popular boy in school, Cavins had a secret—he would wet the bed every night. In the sixth grade, while sitting on the floor during a presentation, he wet his pants. Though he tried to hide his problem, another student pointed it out and he was mocked.
“I had been a very outgoing person, the class clown,” he said. “But after that, I began to see myself as a loser. I think all of us at one time feel like losers. But I also think that inside of every person is the desire to be something great.”
Cavins’ dream was to be in radio and TV broadcasting, he said, but his self-esteem greatly affected the way he saw himself, and he was fearful of speaking to crowds. But God knew he wasn’t a “loser,” he said.
“Jesus has a plan for you, and he uses ordinary people like you and me to turn the world upside down. It doesn’t matter how talented you are or how ordinary you are. He can use you to change the world,” he said.
He used the example of Mother Teresa, the ordinary little nun who served the poor in Calcutta, and became someone extraordinary. He told the teens that they had to return to Jesus every day to gain strength, faith and wisdom to serve their purpose.
“Every day Mother Teresa would go back to Jesus, back to the streets, back to Jesus, back to the streets,” he said. “And this little nun won the Nobel Peace Prize. For doing what? Nothing more than you and I could do—loving the unlovable.”
The key to living one’s life as Jesus asks, he said, is faithfulness.
“You have to get past feeling like losers,” he said. “Be faithful day in and day out, give all you have to God, and he will take what you have given him and change the world. God does extraordinary things with ordinary people because he’s the one doing it. God can use you if you’re available. If what you have is in the hands of Jesus, it’s enough.”
The teens were on their feet, excited for the entertaining performance of APeX. Through juggling, storytelling, laughter and group interaction, the two young men, Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli, have shared their Catholic faith with hundreds of thousands of teens throughout the world.
“We are fed whether we recognize it or not,” Farmer told the teens. “Every good thing we have comes from God. Particularly as Catholics, we get to come together every week or every day as a family for a meal. We come forward, we’re transformed, we’re fed. We want to repay our King. So we make the gift of our very lives. It doesn’t have to be big things. It can be the simple things in our life that we give to God.”
Laughter and happiness are just some of the gifts that can be given to God, he said.
“When you bring joy to another person, in some ways you bring joy to God,” he said. “And every single one of you has the power to make our God smile. It’s in the little things we do when no one is watching—in the way we show love to ourselves and the way we show love to others.”
Barb Garvin, senior director of children and youth ministry for the archdiocese, said that the 2004 Eucharistic Congress gave the 2,000 teens attending a wide variety of Catholic teaching.
“Young people get a broad base as to what to look at in their faith,” she said. “From chastity to apologetics to two young men who in their joy and their craziness share God with young people, there is something for everyone.”
Kelsey Hall, an upcoming junior from St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Smyrna agreed.
“I thought it was awesome. The talks were really great and everyone was really enthusiastic,” she said. “(The teen track) makes you feel included and gives you the chance to live out your faith with so many other people.”
Matthew Brusnahan, an upcoming freshman who attends Holy Family Church in Marietta, has attended the last three Eucharistic Congresses.
“I really enjoy it. All the speakers are really good, and it’s a good way to spend the day with so many other Catholics,” he said. “It’s like a retreat. It really brings you closer to God.”