JACKSON, N.J. — The old saying goes that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
In the days leading up to last Sunday’s New Jersey Catholic Youth Rally here at Six Flags Great Adventure, the forecast called for a rainy day with thunderstorms.
Yes, there was rain — but also a bright, hot sun, appropriate for the day’s feast of Pentecost. The unpredictable weather might have led to more than a few tanned and sunburnt heads and limbs on New Jersey’s 1,800 youth in attendance, but their hearts were inflamed by the Holy Spirit on the day of fellowship.
The youth and chaperones from the Archdiocese of Newark, and the dioceses of Trenton, Paterson, Metuchen and, of course, Camden converged on the theme park for a full slate of carnival games (one chaperone went home with a plush doll of “The Flash” comic book superhero), food (the nachos and ice cream were big hits), and rides and attractions. The illusions of Harry Houdini produced real screams, while brave participants found “The Joker” coaster no laughing matter.
More than 400 young people, youth ministers and chaperones from the Diocese of Camden attended the annual event.
A Eucharistic celebration in the park’s Northern Star Arena capped off the day, with Father James De Fillipps, chaplain at The Catholic Centers at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, as the main celebrant.
Just as the Holy Spirit did for Jesus’ disciples, marking the beginning of the church, “the Holy Spirit is ready, willing, and able to renew our hearts and minds, so we can renew the face of the earth,” he told the young church.
“You are the body of Christ,” Father De Fillipps said, adding that “with Jesus, everything falls into place. The world promises you comfort, but God promises you greatness.”
The day marked not only the birthday of the Catholic Church, but of Neidy Rodriguez, a member of Hammonton’s Saint Mary of Mount Carmel youth group, who turned 16.
“The day was a great experience; I felt comfortable” meeting up with other New Jersey youth, she said.
Neidy is also hoping soon to celebrate another occasion: entering the Catholic Church.
“I liked seeing others embracing their faith and took it upon myself” to enter into the RCIA process, she said.
Greg Coogan, the Diocese of Camden’s director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries called the annual gathering “a constant reminder that the church is present in the lives of young people, and often fun adventures help the relationships that sustain a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.”
“The five diocesan families of Paterson, Newark, Metuchen, Trenton and Camden joined together to celebrate the great adventure of faith, and share it with each other. Anytime 1,800 Catholics strong unite around the Eucharist and God’s Word, we are strengthened for our journey of faith,” he said.