CUMBERLAND — Diocesan Youth Day made an “empowered” return to Our Lady of Fatima Church on Sunday, Sept. 11, bringing together young adults from parishes across the state for a day of faith, friendship and fun. This was the third time that the annual gathering was able to be held, as plans for the 2020 Youth Day had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Activities for this year’s event included live music, workshops, games, Adoration, and Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Robert Evans.
“It’s a packed day for the kids, and I know that they’re all excited to be back,” said Louise Dussault, the director of the Office of Catholic Youth Ministry. This year attracted a total turnout of 125 young people — down somewhat from 2019’s attendance of 160, according to Dussault, but certainly an impressive showing in the aftermath of the pandemic. Programming for the full day event began at 10:30 a.m. with icebreakers, games and group prayer, along with an opportunity to attend the sacrament of reconciliation.
The afternoon was spent in breakout sessions and workshops offered by youth leaders and local clergy, and designed to equip young Catholics with the tools for spiritual growth. Each of was centered on the day’s overarching theme of empowerment (previous Youth Days have included themes like “Anchored” and “Enflamed”). Participants were able to explore and expand upon their spiritual lives through workshops such as “Empowered through the Grace of the Sacraments” and “Empowered through Community.”
Aaron Boudreau, a young parishioner at St. James Church in Manville attending his very first Diocesan Youth Day, said that the workshop on different prayer practices was a highlight of the day.
“We learned about different ways that Catholics can pray — like the lectio devina — and how we can power our lives with prayer,” Boubreau explained.
In addition to fresh faces like Boubreau’s, the event also attracted plenty of Diocesan Youth Day veterans — such as Joselyn Oretega, a 16-year-old from St. Edward’s Church in Providence who has attended all three Diocesan Youth Days. She said that 2021 may have been the best one yet.
“It still felt the same in a lot of ways — the same people, the same feeling of community,” Ortega said. “But having Mass outside this year was actually a really nice change. It was really beautiful.”
The Mass was celebrated by Bishop Evans atop the hill behind Our Lady of Fatima Parish, in an outdoor shrine dedicated to the Fatima apparitions (itself a famous example of how the spiritual gifts of the young can renew and inspire our ancient Church). The theme of empowerment was revisited in a homily by Father Brian Morris, who reminded attendees that developing spiritually depends in large part on their own power to make sacrifices for God.
“You already do this in so many ways, in other aspects of your life,” Father Morris said. “If you’re an athlete, you make sacrifices to train — you take time to go to practice and to study the playbook. If you’re involved in theatre or music, you take time to rehearse, or learn a new piece of music, or a new dance move. All of you are students, and know that you need to make sacrifices of time to study if you want to get good grades… And you have no guarantee, when you make these sacrifices, that you’ll become a professional athlete, or actor, or recording artist… But when we sacrifice for Christ, we are guaranteed that our efforts will not be in vain — and Jesus seals that guarantee himself with the Covenant of his Body and Blood.”
After the homily, Bishop Evans called forth seven young people to be commissioned as the newest members of the Diocesan Leadership Team — a youth group which helps to organize and serve at events like Diocesan Youth Day. In his commissioning, Bishop Evans called upon God to bless “your eyes to see the uniqueness of every person you meet; your ears, so that you may listen and remain open to the diversity of needs that exist within the youth of the Diocese of Providence; your mouth, so that you may speak the truth honestly, openly and powerfully in all you do; and your hands, so that they may serve as an extension of Christ as you reach out in compassion and service for the good of the Kingdom.”
Among the newly commissioned young people was David Wilson, a senior at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket. “We help out by planning retreats at the youth center in Cranston, leading group prayer and assisting with the social media pages,” he explained.
Music for the Mass was provided by Cooper Ray, who also offered a keynote address earlier in the day and performed a special concert for attendees in the evening. Based in Dallas, Texas, Ray said that he hoped both his music and message would give young Catholics the inspiration to take charge of their own spiritual empowerment.
“The Holy Spirit empowers all of us to live lives true to the Church,” said Ray. “It’s important for young people to really grasp the sense of personal connection that makes prayer empowering rather than getting stuck on the ‘right’ method of praying.”
After Mass, attendees shared dinner (and pickup games of volleyball) with one another and with local clergy and religious giving attendees a glimpse at the wide diversity of vocations within the Church. This was followed by a spirited game of “Vocations Bingo,” in which students raced to complete a bingo card with signatures from clergy that fit specific categories — such as “Wears a religious habit,” “is both ordained and married,” or “is a current seminarian.”
Sister Anne Timmons, a Dominican nun and math teacher at St. Pius V School in Providence (and one of the bingo answers for the day), hadn’t heard of Diocesan Youth Day before this year, but she expects to become a regular.
“This has been such an amazing day,” she explained. “It gives us a chance to learn more about our young people, and it gives them a chance to learn what our lives are like. Sister Josemaria [Pence, the Principal of St. Pius V] and I definitely hope to be back next year.”