Young Catholics thirsting for Jesus

Youth congregate in the parish hall shortly after noon, before the start of the fun day. Below: Greg Wasinski, author and presenter, conducts a workshop session.
Photo by James A. McBride

Chris Abraham, from Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown, presents the offertory gifts to Bishop Dennnis Sullivan during the 5:30 p.m. Mass at Christ the Redeemer last Sunday, which concluded the Youth Congress.
Adam Stetser, from Gloucester Catholic High School, proudly holds up his Acorn to show he is NUTS — Naturally Unique and Truly Spectacular.

ATCO — Thirst for God’s Love. Become a new creation. Transform others.

These were the main takeaways for 350 of South Jersey’s young church who participated in the Diocesan Youth Congress last weekend here at Christ the Redeemer Parish, for a day of formation, evangelization, leadership and catechesis.

“Thirsting for Home” was the day’s theme.

A pair of dynamic national Catholic presenters, Greg Wasinski and Carrie Ann Ford, shared their voices and experiences with youth at the start of Sunday’s event and throughout the afternoon. Through music, humor and interactive games, they both referenced the day’s Gospel passage from John, in which Jesus encounters the woman at the well and tells her that “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” but have eternal life.

“He is the living water, and he has a plan and purpose for us. When we accept his purpose, we are transformed,” said Ford, a singer/songwriter from Buffalo, New York.

With this new creation within us, she continued, we are then able to bring Christ to others.

“Everyone is called to be an evangelist. If we don’t understand our story, how can we tell others who Jesus is?”

Wasinski, an author and speaker from Cleveland, Ohio, urged the youth to shift their focus from the material things of this world that only bring temporary happiness, and find true joy in a God “who thirsts for us; as such, we must thirst for him.”

“It’s more important to remember what God knows about me than what others think of me,” he said.

After leadership sessions focusing on such aspects as public speaking and finding your voice in Christ, and time for Eucharistic Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the 460 teens and adult chaperones celebrated a 5:30 p.m. Mass with Bishop Dennis Sullivan.

Just like the woman at the well, bishop told attendees, “we all need renewal and refreshment. Encounter Jesus, and let his living water fill the well of our hearts with his love, goodness, compassion and understanding.”

The day concluded with dinner in the parish hall, and the youth singing “Happy Birthday” to Bishop Sullivan, two days belated.

The event brought hope that the youth would return to their respective communities, share their joy with their peers, and be facilitators in guiding upcoming conversations in parishes and schools, in preparation for the Bishops’ 2018 Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

Kystiana Jalosjos, from Merchantville; and Savannah Kease, from Absecon, found the day brought them able to draw closer to God and befriend other like-minded teens.”

“The heartwarming day gave me time to connect with Jesus,” said Kystiana, a 12th grader and member of the Saint Peter’s Youth Group (SPY).

Savannah, a 13 year-old from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, “enjoyed the exciting day, especially Carrie Ann Ford.

“She was fun and engaging,” Savannah said.

From Blackwood, nine youth and four adults made the trek to Atco from Our Lady of Hope Parish. Youth minister Diane Scafidi was pleased with the turnout from all over the diocese.

“It’s awesome to see 350 teens for the Lord who are not afraid to live out their faith,” she remarked. “They’re here to show their love for the Lord and make a statement. We need that in today’s world.”

To view Carrie Ann Ford and Greg Wasinski’s presentation from last Sunday, as well as the Mass with Bishop Sullivan, go to the parish website of Christ the Redeemer at