Photos by James A. McBride
Greg Coogan, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, speaks at the Youth Congress held at Holy Family Parish, Sewell, on Sunday, April 1. Also pictured is Carrie Ann Ford, the featured speaker for the day.
SEWELL — On Sunday, April 1, at Holy Family Parish here, there was no fooling how passionate youths from the Camden Diocese are about their faith.
Some 245 youth and youth leaders from 32 parishes and high schools came together for the Camden Diocese Youth Congress, a daylong event designed to inspire youth to be a “Light for the World,” in line with the Congress’ theme.
The energy and excitement began early, as youth trickling in for 10:15 a.m. registration were treated to the enthusiastic sounds of “Messenger,” a contemporary Christian band from Our Lady of Hope Parish in Blackwood. Soon after arriving, the youth in the Aquin Center were on their feet, clapping and singing along on this Sunday morning.
Welcoming the youth, Bishop Joseph Galante called the day one “of great grace,” and expressed his hope for all the youth that “Jesus comes more alive for you today.”
In his address, Greg Coogan, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocese, told the youth how much the Catholic Church needs them.
“You are our leaders,” he said. “You are welcome, you are wanted and you are needed. Today is learning how to know and share our Catholic faith, and how to light our candles and hold them out for all the world to see.”
The keynote speaker for the day was Carrie Ann Ford, a singer, songwriter, actress and teacher from Buffalo, N.Y., who has shared her music and testimony all over the United States, Europe and East Africa for the past 20 years.
She challenged the crowd to be “nuts” for their faith, willing to grow in the ground and become a tree, and spread their branches, and soon had every youth shouting “I’m a nut!” in the room.
Ford shared the acronym “BEAT” with the youth, which means “B — Believe that God has a purpose for you; E — Expect great things; A — Allow God to use you; and T — Trust Jesus, and know that he loves you.”
She implored the youth to live everyday in tune with the Catholic faith, being an example for others.
“Your actions have to say who you are in Christ,” she said.
After Ford’s talk, the youth were scattered in different classrooms to hear various “breakout” talks. One talk had Kari Janisse and Dan Palmieri, youth ministers at Our Lady of Peace, Williamstown, tell inspiring stories of Catholic saints. Another talk had Father Michael Romano, director of vocations for the diocese, speak on hearing and accepting God’s call.
Yet another breakout, offered in Spanish, featured Father Rene Canales, parochial vicar from St. Gabriel, Carneys Point and St. Clare of Assisi, Swedesboro, talking on the freedom of Jesus versus the freedom of the world.
The day ended with a Palm Sunday liturgy, concelebrated by Father Romano; Father Robert Hughes, Holy Family pastor; and Augustinian Father Stephen Curry, from St. Padre Pio Parish, Vineland.
Parish representatives departed with a candle to bring back the light to their communities. Left on the walls of the Aquin Center were flashlights made from colored paper, with the names of youth, the light of the world.
Youth leaders were pleased with the day and what it meant not only for their individual parishes, but for the church of South Jersey.
“This is not something they experience regularly,” mentioned Danielle Kupsky, youth leader, with Father Curry, who made the trip from Vineland with five youth. The day “is good, to get them excited, and help them grow in their faith.”
“They’ll get a good sense of leadership,” said Diane Scafidi, youth minister at Our Lady of Hope, Blackwood, who attended the event with six other youth from her parish.
Coogan, as well, was satisfied with the weekend. “The Youth Congress was an awesome way for the young church to get closer to God, build community, and evangelize.”