GALLOWAY — His Roman collar peeking out from under the black shirt that read “God has your blessing, #BELIEVE,” just below his baseball cap-topped head, the priest from the Bronx spoke the truth to youth here at Assumption Regional Catholic School.
“God is truth!” he shouted.
“Without God, you don’t have the truth; you have nothing. To live the truth, we have to be real — real and genuine, living with integrity, loving with abandon and placing other’s needs before our own. You have to stop singing for the world, and start singing for the Lord.”
These were the #FACTS (his words) of Father Joseph Espaillat, the main speaker for this year’s Camden Diocesan Youth Congress, gathering 412 youth from 28 parishes and schools for a dynamic day of fellowship, formation, service and prayer on Sunday, March 11.
Fittingly enough, the theme of the event was #LIVETHETRUTH.
After Father Espaillat’s energetic talk, which set the tone for the day, youth broke out into different workshop sessions — whether learning from diocesan seminarians Deacon Anthony Infanti and John March; adoring the Blessed Sacrament with the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal; or, the highlight, making meals for the hungry around the world.
“This will stick with me for the rest of my life,” said the joyful Dennis Fortuna, an eighth grader from Runnemede’s Holy Child Parish.
His task during the assembly-line meal-making process was “sealing the packets” of rice, dehydrated soy and vegetables, and vitamins and minerals, he said.
Over 40,000 meals were made that day to combat hunger.
“We’re making a difference,” added 14-year-old Zoe Reemer from Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Linwood.
The day concluded with a Eucharistic Celebration, led by Bishop Dennis Sullivan.
In this season of Lent, he implored the young church, “look to the cross — it is your source of healing, be it emotional, physical or spiritual.”
In allowing God’s loving sacrifice to penetrate our hearts, “you will be healed, you will be saved,” he urged.
Lori King is the youth minister at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Vineland, and was present at the Youth Congress with her teenage daughters, Mary Grace and Sarah. This wasn’t their first youth congress. Her family has seen the event’s transformative impact over the years,
“The Youth Congress has changed the whole tone of my family and house,” in faith and joy, she said.
“My husband hasn’t been able to make it to one of these yet, but he feels the joy radiating from us every time we come back,” King added.
Greg Coogan, director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, believes that “young people deserve the very best the church has to offer. Anytime we provide ways to engage young people’s head, heart and hands in their faith can make a significant impact on their life.”
Other memorable moments of the day included a procession of icons of the Blessed Mother, reflecting the diverse beauty of the Catholic Church, and a powerful routine from the Haitian Praise and Dance Team from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish.