Youth Ambassadors Share Keeping Christ at the Center of Their Lives
January 05, 2012 at 12:23 PM
By TARA CONNOLLY
When Juliet Bonino found herself lax in her faith and going to Mass with her family because it was “the thing to do,” she turned to the sacrament of reconciliation and the Blessed Sacrament to reignite the flame that set her faith on fire.
Bonino was one of four youth ambassadors who shared their stories with approximately 275 youth and young adults at “Catechism Alive!” Oct. 23, about how Eucharist and confession have played a role in keeping Christ at the center of their lives.
The program was initiated in the diocese last year to bring students in grades nine through 12 to a deeper understanding of their faith by explaining the major sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Father Allen Hoffa, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry (OYYAM), welcomed the youth and young adults to the session targeting “The Eucharist” at St. Thomas More, Allentown.
The evening included a talk on the catechism topic by Father Eugene Ritz, live music by Catholic FX, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, confessions and remarks by Bishop John Barres.
Before Father Ritz presented “The Eucharist,” Bonino and youth ambassadors Robert Leeson, Emily Peiffer, Erik Bjorken shared how they have strengthened their relationship with the Blessed Sacrament and how they incorporate the sacrament into their daily lives.
Bonino, a student at Wyomissing High School, said she “wasn’t feeling her faith” for quite some time and decided to attend last year’s “Catechism Alive!” on a whim to hang out with friends.
It wasn’t until the high school field hockey player and member of the track team attended confession that she felt the spark in faith she had been missing.
“I had the most brutal honest confession,” said Bonino. “It was the most amazing feeling in the world.
“It’s only when you are vulnerable to Christ that we are truly forgiven. If any of you are in the similar place, I challenge you to be vulnerable. I challenge you because it’s the only way to receive total forgiveness and to grow closer to the Lord.”
Youth ambassador Leeson, a student at Bethlehem Catholic High School, seizes the opportunity to receive the Eucharist every morning during the school’s morning Communion service.
The captain of the football team and member of the track team, who hopes to major in mechanical engineering at college next year, said he is not afraid to show his love for the Blessed Sacrament.
“I love the Eucharist. It reminds me to do my best throughout the day. Eucharist reminds me that Jesus is in me and in everyone around the world,” said Leeson.
Bjorken, a student at Berks Catholic High School, Reading, admitted he didn’t always have a profound connection with the Eucharist until a trip to Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where he placed himself in silence with others around the Blessed Sacrament.
“Most of us see the Eucharist as something that is just on the altar. My views changed during eucharistic adoration. All of a sudden while I looking at the Eucharist everything clicked and I was overcome with emotion. I finally realized that Jesus was right there,”
he said. Peiffer, a student at Allentown Central Catholic High School, keeps her eyes on Jesus and seeks out the sacrament to cultivate her relationship with Jesus.
“When I receive Eucharist, I consider that my time with Jesus. He loves to hear me talk to him and I love to listen to him,” she said.
In his presentation, Father Ritz drew on the insights from the youth ambassadors and his trip to World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain last summer.
“The young church was drawn together for those days by the Eucharist…. We were constantly reminded that he is the reason we come together, the reason we are here, the reason we found ourselves in Spain with young people from throughout the world, the reason we are here tonight for this event – the holy Eucharist, Jesus in his real presence,” he said.
Reiterating Pope Benedict XVI’s call for youth and young adults to grow deeper in faith through the word of God and the Eucharist, Father Ritz also reflected on the first written account of the institution of the Eucharist in a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.
“When we read that letter we are taken with Jesus and the apostles into the upper room, to the Passover Table, where the ritual of unleavened bread and simple wine take on a new and a glorious significance at that Passover table. For the first time, Jesus, the eternal high priest, offered the Eucharist, his body and blood the most powerful experience of his love,” he said.
According to Father Ritz, a critical moment at the Passover table occurred when Christ spoke in the future tense by saying, “This is my body which will be given up for you” and “This is the cup of my blood, it will be shed for you.”
“He literally gives up his body and sheds his blood for us,” he said.
“St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that nothing has more power to heal us and to forgive our sins than the Eucharist – the amazing reality is that the son of God offers himself completely to us under the forms of bread and wine,” said Father Ritz.
And when Jesus commanded the apostles to “do this in memory of me,” Father Ritz said, the command was for the apostles to carry out the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
“For almost 2,000 years the church has carried out what Jesus asked us. Through his bishops, priests and through the church, Christ continues to give us himself and becomes present among us in the most amazing, incredible and real way,” he said.
Father Ritz reminded the youth and young adults that Catholics don’t believe that bread and wine are mere symbols of Jesus or a metaphor for his sacrifice.
“We believe that we adore and receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. This is why the love of Christ is experienced most powerfully when we receive the Eucharist,” he said.
In his talk, he shared the promise Christ made to his apostles, the church and them when he said, “Behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
“He fulfills his promise to remain with us through his church by giving us the Eucharist as the food for our earthly journey,” said Father Ritz.
Tonight we bring our praise and suffering, our prayers and our work, we bring all that we do to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist so that he may strengthen us for our pilgrimage through this life and make us want to join him for something the world cannot offer us – eternal life,” he said.
Bishop Barres also invited the youth and young adults to reflect in silence before the Eucharist and urged them to use social networking to spread the truths of the faith that calls them to be instruments of great charity who refrain from tearing others down.
“Tell the Lord that you love him with all your mind, heart and spirit. This is a great day to say ‘Lord, I am your servant, I will do whatever you ask of me,’” said Bishop Barres.
“Tonight, give yourself totally over to the Lord. When you give yourself totally to the Lord is when you are most free,” he said.
The next “Catechism Alive!” will be Sunday, March 4 at 6 p.m. at St. Thomas More.
Admission to “Catechism Alive!” is free, but groups are encouraged to register with approximate numbers so space can be reserved. For more information or to register, visit website www.adoyyam.com or call 610-289-8900, ext. 235.