By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 1, 2013
MARIETTA—On the famous Brazilian beach renamed “Popacabana,” an estimated 3 million Catholics on Saturday, July 27, gathered to worship, dance and celebrate their faith. Gray skies and drizzle for days could not dampen the enthusiasm from the crowds as they waited for hours to see Pope Francis.
Thousands of miles away, scores of young people at Holy Family Church, Marietta, were doing much the same.
Teens kneeling and sitting circled a cloth-covered altar lit with four candles. The sweet smell of incense wafted into the room. Father Llane Briese, chaplain at Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville, carried the gold monstrance holding the Eucharist. The room fell silent, with only the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar.
“It may not look very exciting,” said Father Briese to the silent crowd. “But we behold here love itself. We behold truth itself. We lay our entire being at his most Sacred Heart.”
Some 75 teens and chaperones from eight parishes joined together in prayer at the same time the beach in Rio de Janeiro was turned into a giant chapel. They came from as far away as St. Clement Church, Calhoun, and as close as the hosting parish, Holy Family. Teens wore colorful T-shirts from past mission trips or simply expressing parish pride. A giant screen of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio was the backdrop, along with a Bible verse: “There is no fear in love, for perfect love drives out fear” (Jn 4:18).
“To be united with those praying thousands of miles away will be a faith-filled, powerful experience for our teens, reminding us we are truly one universal Church,” said John Huynh, director of youth ministries for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
The theme of the Saturday afternoon event mirrored that of World Youth Day: “Go and make disciples.” It included singing and praise, quiet prayer in front of the Eucharist, along with a talk, followed by dinner and games of dodge ball.
Carla Heinsch, the youth minister at St. Catherine of Siena Church, Kennesaw, told the group each of them had talents and a God-given mission to share those gifts with the people in their lives. She quoted Pope Francis, telling them “never yield to discouragement.”
“Your mission territory is whoever you encounter that day,” she said, from the classroom and the family dinner table to the athletic field. “It’s a change in perspective.”
Heinsch went to Denver for the 1993 World Youth Day celebration. The message she heard from Pope John Paul II there continues to fuel her life.
“I remember the calling to be a great saint,” she said.
“It’s a radical call to love,” she said, and a duty given to every Catholic through baptism.
For young people to live that call, it’s important for them to build their relationship with Jesus, Heinsch said. You cannot give what you don’t have, she said.
She offered a cautionary tale when she told the young people about her missionary service to the poor in India. In a rush to catch an important train, Heinsch said she ignored an ill man on the sidewalk. It has bothered her since.
“I knew I was supposed to do something,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to be Jesus. Don’t be afraid to look at the journey,” not just the goal, she said.
The young people followed the events in Rio. Some got emails with links to news reports and videos. Others followed Twitter postings from priest friends who shared the experience.
Mason Kane, 17, wore his yellow “Salt and Light” T-shirt from a spring mission trip to Tennessee. He worked on a Habitat for Humanity project there. The high school senior, who attends Holy Family Church, said he wanted to celebrate the day with the millions of other young people in Rio. “I’d say it was a festival of praise.”
“Any time with Jesus is a good time to be here,” he said.
Kane said World Youth Day made him think and “not be so quiet with my faith.”
Isabella Stento, 15, a member of St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, attends the XLT celebrations of Christian music and prayer held in the archdiocese. She followed the Twitter posts of a friend from Rio.
“There’s a lot of music. The speaker is really inspiring and I like listening to them,” she said.
April Freeman, 15, wore a hat with a large feather, looking a bit like Robin Hood, with polka-dotted nail polish. She bounded on the stage before dinner to lead the group in prayer.
She was excited about what she’d learned about Pope Francis during World Youth Day, especially his visit to the slums of Rio. “He’s awesome,” Freeman said.
“He’s humble and meek. I love the little details about (his requests) to pray for him. He rides buses,” said Freeman, who is home schooled and attends St. Clement Church, Calhoun.
Freeman tries to live her faith through service, not simply words, for example, bringing her family’s horses to a summer camp so children could enjoy them.
James Perkins, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, played the guitar. He grew up in St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Smyrna. The vocalist was Andrea Merriman.
“The biggest thing is to get the word of the music as prayer, not just words,” he said.