By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published June 22, 2006
It wasn’t too hard to find the teen track of the 11th annual Eucharistic Congress.
It was just a matter of following one’s ears.
Praise and worship music led by the XLT band boomed out of Exhibit Hall A of the Georgia International Convention Center June 17, while as many as 1,500 teenagers gathered together for music, fellowship and Catholic teaching.
Jason Pastore, Western regional director for LIFE TEEN and keynote speaker for the teen track, told humorous stories about his two young boys and spoke of the necessary ingredients for a “healthy, loving family.”
As an example, six teens held a board on which another teen sat. The teens holding the board, Pastore said, represented the family ingredients—faith, trust, communication, affirmation, time and forgiveness. Then one by one he had the teens step away from the board until all that was left were “time” and “faith.”
“You might think, yeah, we spend time together by going to Mass on Sundays and maybe we might eat together sometimes and say grace before meals. But that’s not enough to hold up a family,” he said, demonstrating the wobbly board holding up the young girl.
“Forgiveness is one that most of us struggle with. Most of us in the room here, we have little things that we need to forgive,” he said. “But others here have great wounds, from physical and emotional abuse. As a parent, I wish I could take that away from you.”
Little by little he added the board holders back until the board was sturdy again, held up by all six ingredients.
God is always willing to reward a small effort, he said, comparing the Lord to a “super ball.” With just a small bounce on the stage, the ball flew high into the air. Pastore then took several super balls and bounced them into the audience as teens leapt to grab them.
“It just takes a little effort to start to change our families,” he said. “But what if we really give our heart to it? Our families will be transformed from just that little effort because God rewards us for that.”
Father Ricardo Bailey, parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta, was the second speaker for the teen track. He, too, talked to the teens about importance of family.
God chose for His Son, Jesus—fully human, fully divine—to enter the world through a family, understanding that we’re imperfect, Father Bailey said. He recalled the ordeal Joseph and Mary faced when they couldn’t find Jesus.
“Imagine how you’d feel if God chose you to babysit Jesus and then you lose Him. That shows us the humanity of Jesus.”
He acknowledged the struggles teens may have with their families but that they must stick it out.
“You can never separate yourself from your family nor can you ever say you won’t be a part of it. Your family isn’t perfect, but you’re stuck in there.”
We can “get an attitude,” he said, “… but we must understand that everything we do today—our praise, being happy about having the Eucharist in our lives—we also must take it home.”
Some may see Christians as hypocrites, he said. “We praise God in church, but we’re a different person when we go home.”
To demonstrate how much the faithful need each other, he conducted an “experiment,” bringing to the stage two girls and asking if they could recite the Nicene Creed alone.
He cautioned the girls: “When we try to do things by ourselves, it can be very hard. If you catch me on a good day, I still mess it up.”
True to Father Bailey’s prediction, each girl could not get through the Creed without stumbling. “Alone you can’t do it, but together we can.”
He asked the audience to stand up and to profess the Creed together, which they did, followed by enthusiastic applause.
After the teen track, attendees Tori Bryant and Rachel Collins both sported T-shirts with autographs from Father Bailey.
“He really made my day,” Bryant said of Father Bailey. “I liked him a lot.”
Collins, a recent high school graduate, said she appreciates that teens have a separate track.
“I think it’s really good that we can be with our own group and that it’s totally different from the adult (track).”
Sean Mercer, an upcoming senior from St. Pius X Church in Conyers, said he looks forward to the Eucharistic Congress every year.
“It’s not like anything we have at our church,” he said. “It’s fun to praise God with so many people, and you feel more welcome praising and acting crazy here.”
Mercer also said that he thinks that the separate teen track proves that the teens are important to the church.
“It shows that they appreciate us as teenagers. We’re the future of the church, and hopefully when we are older, we’ll do the same thing for the teenagers that will be in our place.”
Suzanne Haugh contributed to this story.