More than 1,000 members of parish-based communities called the Neocatechumenal Way gathered at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., for a day of prayer and catechesis in preparation for World Youth Day 2002.

The gathering, presided over by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, included members of the Neocatechumenate from 20 dioceses across the eastern United States, including Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans and Bridgeport, Conn.

Giuseppe Gennarini, head of the movement's catechist team in the United States, began the meeting by telling the young people that “faith is not just to learn things. Faith is a concrete meeting with a person and that person is Jesus Christ. And he is here today. And he is waiting for you in Toronto.”

Archbishop Myers urged the youths to cling to their faith and not lose hope in the time of crisis in the church. “You can be the generation of reform. We need holiness. We need saints. And you can do this,” he said.

The gathering coincided with the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, April 21, and culminated with a call for vocations that invited anyone in the crowd who felt called to the priesthood or religious life to come forward and receive a blessing from the archbishop.

A similar vocational call will be held this summer when members of the Neocatechumenal Way from all over the world gather as part of World Youth Day celebrations.

“Please pray about it and think about it,” Archbishop Myers said. “We need you and we need your gifts.”

To thunderous applause, 28 young men and 34 young women proceeded to the front of the assembly. They knelt in rows as the archbishop laid his hands on the head of each person and asked that God bless and confirm their vocational call.

After they all had received a blessing, Gennarini explained that these young people would begin a time of spiritual counseling to discern their vocation.

For 16 parishioners from St. Michael Parish in Gainesville, Ga., the day was more than just preparation for World Youth Day.

“It was like a mini-pilgrimage. It was a preparation for the pilgrimage, of course, but also this really was a chance to give the kids the awareness that Christian life is a pilgrimage,” said Peter Heidkamp.

Heidkamp, who is from Boston but is currently working as an itinerant catechist in Gainesville together with his wife, Lisa, and their five children, led the delegation from the Archdiocese of Atlanta to the meeting.

Armed with sleeping bags, they set out in three minivans on the 850-mile journey. Along the way, they stopped in Washington where they visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and were offered hospitality in a local parish for the night.

“We went with very little,” Heidkamp told a reporter from The Pilot, Boston's archdiocesan newspaper. “And we saw how God provided—with food, with hospitality, with everything.”