By SAMANTHA SMITH, Special to the Bulletin | Published February 21, 2019 | En Español
SNELLVILLE—Over 300 teens from 13 parishes gathered together at St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville for a local World Youth Day Rally on Jan. 26. This event gave teens unable to attend World Youth Day in Panama time for prayer, service and fellowship and to show solidarity with pilgrims
Teens were encouraged to say “yes to (God) all day long” by Racheal Milotte, emcee of the event.
World Youth Day is an opportunity every three years for young people to experience the universality of the Catholic Church. Initiated in 1986 by St. John Paul II, thousands of youth from all over the world come together to deepen their faith through prayers and the sacraments.
Youth are asked to continue answering the invitation of the Holy Father and carry home the message received at World Youth Day events to be Christ’s light to the world. The 2019 WYD was Jan. 22-27 in Panama City, Panama.
The Snellville rally mirrored activities in Panama, including Mass, service projects, praise and worship, the sacrament of reconciliation and adoration with Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III.
Teens had their pick of various workshops that covered social media, life after confirmation and the experiences of Hispanic Catholic teens. Male- and female-only workshops were available, as well as a program for youth ministers from the parishes. Every teen had a choice of service projects, including making sandwiches for the Central Night Shelter in Atlanta, creating Valentine’s Day cards for seniors, writing letters to children in Nepal and Kenya and making prayer blankets and beads.
Catholic jewelry was also available for purchase with sales supporting Catholic Relief Services. Vocation tables included sisters and priests from the Our Lady of La Salette orders.
In addition to the activities, some teens looked forward to sharing with others, including “meeting new people and (see) how others do things in other parishes,” said Gigi Brown, 14, a St. Oliver teen who is preparing to receive confirmation in 2020.
This rally of faith was a dream fulfilled for Father Cyriac Mattathilanickal, MS, pastor of St. Oliver, who wants to keep youth engaged and involved. As the former director of the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette Retreat Center in Attleboro, Massachusetts for 11 years, Father Cyriac led and organized youth retreats and Steubenville conferences. His passion and the ongoing dedication of St. Oliver’s youth minister, Lynn Ory, encouraged an additional 75 volunteers from various ministries at the parish to dedicate their time to this spiritual rally for teens.
Ory’s enthusiasm and commitment for the youth at St. Oliver over the years also encouraged participation from her previous students, such as Paul Hedges, the praise and worship leader and Savanna Ziegler, who conducted the ladies-only workshop. The emcee, Racheal Milotte, served as Ory’s youth group assistant.
St. Oliver’s is “rich with volunteers (that want to) engage their time and talent,” said Father Cyriac.
Scott Anthony, the rally’s keynote speaker, is familiar with the priest’s passion for youth ministry, having worked with him on Steubenville conferences in the past. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Anthony has worked in youth ministry for 27 years, currently serving as the director of youth and young adult ministries at St. Joseph Catholic Church in York, Pennsylvania. With his wife, Teresa, he is the father of eight children on earth and three in heaven.
After a couple of icebreaker games, Anthony shared his honest and complicated faith journey, which included health struggles that affected his appearance and even attempting suicide as a teen.
“God saved my life twice—at two days old and in high school,” he said. His story included an encouraging message—even though we are broken and wounded, God has not abandoned us. He reminded the teens that all of us are part of a larger story and that “God wants to use your story to help others.”
Anthony’s profound faith story touched many of the teens at the rally.
“He was calm (and) knew God was in his life,” said Morgan Gallegos, 14.
Anthony asked the teens to reflect on how they respond to God, encouraged them to say “yes” to his love and mercy and to share it with others. He used the example of Mary, and how her “yes” to God to carry his son, Jesus, changed history, but also reminded the teens that God’s plan doesn’t always match our timing.
While working in youth ministry was not one of Anthony’s top choices, his “yes” to God’s call has inspired thousands over the years. And in turn, his faith is inspired by teens he works with.
“God created us to share in his life of love,” said Anthony.
And as hundreds of teens and their youth leaders left the doors of St. Oliver, Father Cyriac looks forward to opening them again for this same event for many years to come.