PHOTOS: Maryland Youth Rally Commemorates the First English Mass in America

Father Peter Pomposello, a Catholic priest and U.S. Army chaplain, headlined a youth rally Saturday on St. Clements Island, Maryland.

Youth adore Christ in the Eucharist at a youth rally on St. Clements Island, Maryland, Sept. 30. The altar used during the rally was specially made by local craftsmen to be used for Masses on the island.
Youth adore Christ in the Eucharist at a youth rally on St. Clements Island, Maryland, Sept. 30. The altar used during the rally was specially made by local craftsmen to be used for Masses on the island. (photo: Jeffrey Bruno)

Father Peter Pomposello, a Catholic priest and U.S. Army chaplain known on social media as “Father Uncle Sam,” headlined a youth rally Saturday on St. Clements Island, Maryland, where the first English Mass in America was celebrated.

Known as the “birthplace of Maryland,” St. Clements Island is where Catholics held the first Mass in the English colonies in 1634 after fleeing persecution in England.

Titled “The Journey: Why Did They Come?” organizers said the rally commemorated the first Mass in the English colonies while getting youth to think about their vocations and how, like the first English Catholics to arrive in the New World, they can live out their lives radically following God’s will.

Youth attendees participate Sept. 30, 2023, in praise and worship on St. Clements Island, where a giant white cross, permanently installed on the island, commemorates the first English Catholic Mass in America. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Youth attendees participate Sept. 30 in praise and worship on St. Clements Island, where a giant white cross, permanently installed on the island, commemorates the first English Catholic Mass in America. | Jeffrey Bruno

“Life’s an adventure, and committing ourselves to God is an adventure,” Father Pomposello, who at 54 is a former paratrooper currently pursuing his parachuting license, told CNA.

Father Pomposello, now a full-time recruiter for both the Army and for the priesthood, said his mission at the rally was to challenge the youth to not be afraid to live out their vocations.

“Answering the call to a vocation of priesthood is no different than answering the call to marriage,” Father Pomposello said. “They’re vocations of love, of joy, and of sacrifice.”

Father Peter Pomposello, a Catholic priest and U.S. Army Chaplain, is a former paratrooper and has been on five combat deployments. He spoke to youth at the "Journey: Why did they come?" youth rally on St. Clements Island, Maryland, Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Father Peter Pomposello, a Catholic priest and U.S. Army Chaplain, is a former paratrooper and has been on five combat deployments. | Jeffrey Bruno


‘There’s Just No Regrets in Going’

The event was organized by Southern Maryland Roots, a Catholic youth group made up of high schoolers from several parishes in the area.

Part Catholic rally, part career festival, the day boasted a long list of activities, including sports, devotional talks, confessions, adoration, a concert, and even presentations by representatives from the Army and the local sheriff and fire departments.

Teens participate in games and presentations during the "Journey: Why did they come?" rally on St. Clements Island, Maryland, Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Teens participate in games and presentations Sept. 30. | Jeffrey Bruno

The event also included a Mass celebrated by Washington Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell. 

Despite being held in a sparsely populated, rural portion of southern Maryland, the rally was attended by 120 high-school youth from parishes and schools around the area.

Cheyenne, 15, told CNA that by combining activities such as Mass and adoration with presentations from the military and law enforcement, the rally showed participants the value of “God and country.”

By coming to the island where the first English Mass in America was said, Cheyenne said it was “so cool” to “be so close to a big part of history.”

St. Clements Island, Maryland, the location of the first English Mass said in America in 1634, is only accessible by boat.  Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

St. Clements Island, Maryland, the location of the first English Mass said in America in 1634, is only accessible by boat. | Jeffrey Bruno

Other youth participants told CNA that they enjoyed being able to strengthen their relationship with God while also taking part in games and activities with friends.

“It was exciting,” a first-time participant, Jacqueline, 14, told CNA. She said that she especially loved being able to attend Mass with friends.

“I think it’s great,” John Paul, 13, said, adding that he particularly loved participating in adoration and praise and worship.

Teens participate in games and presentations during the "Journey: Why did they come?" rally on St. Clements Island, Maryland, Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Teens participate in games and presentations Sept. 30. | Jeffrey Bruno

“There’s just no regrets in going,” another participant, Catherine, 17, told CNA.

A senior and second-year rally attendee, Catherine said she was looking forward to coming again after making great memories at the first rally in 2022.

“Last year was just really fun, everything about it,” she said. “I felt changed. I know everybody says that, but I felt changed, felt lighter, and I had a really good time.”

Youth participate in Mass celebrated by Washington Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell, Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Youth participate in Mass celebrated by Washington Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell Sept. 30. | Jeffrey Bruno


‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Sacrifice’

Father Pomposello, who at one point in the rally led the youth in some Army-style push-ups, said that whether one is called to married or religious life, “it’s going to be a life of sacrifice.”

As an Army chaplain, Father Pomposello says he is a missionary and an “ambassador for the Church.”

He was 26 and in a serious relationship when he first felt the clear call to become a priest. After spending extensive time in prayer, he was confident God was calling him to join the seminary.

Father Peter Pomposello, a U.S. Army Chaplain, leads youth in Army Physical Training ("PT"), Sept. 30, 2023. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno

Father Peter Pomposello, a U.S. Army Chaplain, leads youth in Army Physical Training. | Jeffrey Bruno

Now a priest for 19 years — nine of those on active duty with five combat deployments — Father Pomposello has no regrets.

“I celebrate sacraments, and I jump out of airplanes. I mean, how cool is that?” he said laughing.

Father Pomposello said events like the Maryland youth rally are beautiful ways to help youth hear their call from God. He tells youth: “Don’t be afraid of the sacrifice, because that’s where the joy comes from.”

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