The Archdiocese of New York held its first New York Catholic Youth Day on April 6 at the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, N.Y.

With more than 1,500 youth and young adults present, the theme for the event was “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” from Philippians 4:4. The diocese held the event to recognize U.S. World Youth Day, typically held on the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Originally scheduled for November, it was rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy.

The day consisted of music, entertainment, workshops, adoration, confession and a food drive led by Catholic Charities. Featured guests included Father Agustino Torres and Father Stan Fortuna of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Full Armor Band and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who celebrated Mass for the participants.

Cynthia Martinez, associate director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of New York, hoped the youth left the event on fire for the love of Christ.

“We hope the participants left with a greater sense of community, not only with their own parishes and/or schools, but with the rest of the archdiocese. Also, that they had an experience of the joy of Our Lord, as highlighted by the theme,” said Martinez.

Father Stephan Norton, pastor of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in the Bronx, N.Y., led a workshop for youth ministers. He hopes they took away inspiration that will influence youth on a parish level.

“I hope I filled the youth ministers with a renewed vigor in the faith that will impact the youth,” said Father Norton. “My hope and prayer is that the youth ministers were once again on fire with the gift of the Holy Spirit in this Year of Faith.”

Full Armor Band helped provide music for the event. Lead vocalist Douglas Hutchings was amazed by the spiritual transitions the youth made throughout the day.

“When the kids arrive at an event like this, they are often skeptical. However, by the time we get to adoration, the kids are ready to embrace God,” said Hutchings. “Seeing 1,500 youth from our area bow down before Jesus in adoration is a beautiful sight.”

Father Torres hoped the youth saw someone who tries his best to be holy. He used Yoda, the character from Star Wars, as an example.

“Yoda said, ‘Do or do not; there is not try’ — so, ultimately, I pray that God planted some seeds of conversion in the hearts of these young people, and if he used the example of my life, then, Amen,” said the priest. “But the most important thing is that they had a good experience of God’s love.”

Young adult Denise Martinez is a parishioner of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Port Chester, N.Y. She enjoyed seeing the youth of her parish experience adoration. Witnessing them engage in their faith also inspired her to grow in her faith: “Being able to see that there is a continuance of young people in the Church and that their faith is strong will stay with me long term, because I will continue to work with adolescents and help them grow in their love for the Lord.”

The Archdiocese of New York is not the only diocese to celebrate U.S. World Youth Day within the last year. Thousands across the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Dallas gathered at Six Flags Over Texas in October for their 19th Annual World Youth Day. 

Every year, the day begins with amusement-park festivities: thrill rides, games, food and fellowship. Towards the end of the afternoon, the youth meet up for a concert at the Six Flags Music Mill, followed by Mass with the bishops of both dioceses.

David Casey and Doug Tooke of Monarch Catholic Ministries led the event’s concert. Tooke explained why events like this humble them and draw them closer to God.

“We spoke in front of the altar,” said Tooke. “What a great reminder — to be able to turn around and remember that the Ultimate Sacrifice takes place right there, and that’s the centerpiece — that’s the reason for gathering. I like the humility that comes with that.”

Susan Dorfmeister, director of youth and young-adult ministries for the Diocese of Dallas, said each parish is assigned a different color shirt to be a visible sign of faith.

“It is an amazing sight to walk through the park and see shirts representing our Catholic communities, as well as to look out from the stage in the Music Mill to a sea of color: many, yet one body,” said Dorfmeister.

Many youth said the event allows them to bond with fellow Catholics. Mariela Jasso, a high-school junior from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Munday, Texas, enjoys the Mass. She said it is amazing to see so many youth from her diocese.

“It’s awesome to sing with everybody and see all those people up there,” said Jasso. “We come together as a whole family and just enjoy it.”

Andrea Espinoza, an eighth-grader from St. Mark Catholic Church in Plano, Texas, said she learned more about God and those around her. She had a great time and will definitely go again.

“If all of us are together, and we’re in one Mass, we can get closer to God and pray as one,” said Espinoza.

Jenny Corcoran, a chaperone for St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Lindsay, Texas, said this was her fourth year attending and see always leaves with the same impression: “It gives you hope for the future.”


Looking Forward to Rio

Now, the dioceses are looking forward to summer's worldwide youth day.

Kevin Dougherty, the associate director of youth and young-adult ministries for the Diocese of Dallas, said that two diocese-sponsored groups will be attending World Youth Day in Rio.

“One group of about 20 pilgrims (mostly young adults from Holy Family Church in Irving) includes Bishop Mark Seitz, Father Tom Cloherty and Father Arthur Unachukwu,” he said. “The other group is led by Yong Oh, a young-adult leader out of Mary Immaculate Parish in Farmers Branch. Yong is founder and lead for the highly successful monthly young-adult gathering at Mary Immaculate called The Shepherds Café. There are no youth under 18 participating in either of these groups by diocesan policy.”

Dougherty also said that a small group of individual registrants will be traveling together.

Cynthia Martinez of the Archdiocese of New York will be attending the summer event with a youth contingent: “There are a few parishes that are attending. In total, it will be around 50 of us from New York.”


Jacqueline Burkepile writes from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.