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November 23, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 2


photo: Jarred Bowdin and Seth Stoddard, both of St. Nicholas Paris in Virginia Beach, race at the diocesan Middle School youth rally at Bishop Sullivan High School in Virginia Beach oct. 25.

Jarred Bowdin and Seth Stoddard, both of St. Nicholas Paris in Virginia Beach, race at the diocesan Middle School youth rally at Bishop Sullivan High School in Virginia Beach oct. 25.

Diocesan youth rally brings excitement

Using humor and telling stories both Biblical and personal, motivational speaker Paul J. Kim from California addressed the joy of God’s love and forgiveness when he spoke at the diocesan middle school youth rallies in Richmond and Virginia Beach in October.

The Middle School Youth Rally, now in its sixth year, had approximately 180 participants at Saint Edward the Confessor Parish in Richmond Oct. 24 and nearly 240 at Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach Oct. 25.

The number of participants has been steadily growing since the rallies began. This rally, number seven, had about 50 more people than last year at each location, making it the largest rally yet, according to Deacon Grimm Palm, Associate Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Eastern Vicariate.

Both rallies had the theme “Experiencing Joy”and the same format — Mr. Kim’s presentations in the morning and afternoon, Mass, inflatables to play on, crafts and religious “Olympics” in which the youth did activities like playing charades to further understand and foster their faith.

Deacon Grimm said organizers hope that the rally’s high-energy activities and dynamic speaker made middle-schoolers more excited about their faith. If so, he said, it will be easier to keep them engaged as high-schoolers.

At the beginning of his presentation, Mr. Kim hooked the youth with a personal confession that was common to many in attendance — that he didn’t like attending Mass as a child. He gradually reeled them into another concept — that their lives could be richer through a relationship with Christ.

Mr. Kim admitted that as a youth he only went to Mass because his parents forced him and that the only things he liked about church were the girls and the donuts. He said he would run into church before the rest of his family so he could select where they would sit, strategically placing himself by a cute girl. He jested he looked forward to the Lord’s Prayer because it allowed him to hold the girl’s hand, and he joked that he had a pickup line: “Hey, I was reading the Bible. The book of Numbers. And I couldn’t find your number.”

“I never left church with a girl, but I did leave with a donut,” he said.

He added that like many people at Mass, he was doing “Catholic Zumba,” just going through the motions without knowing why.

A turning point came when he attended a Steubenville Youth Conference in high school. (Thousands of Catholic teens come together at these conferences held throughout the nation for a weekend of dynamic presentations, inspirational worship and sacramental celebrations aimed at helping them grow in their faith journeys.)

Confessing that he only went to the conference to meet girls, he said he was put off at first by the zeal of some of the other participants but gradually came around as speakers addressed issues pertinent to him such as family relationships, doubts in his faith, and struggling with sin, temptation and bad decisions.

“Slowly but surely I was getting something out of this church event,” he said.

At the conference, he said he made what may have been his first genuine prayer. He asked for forgiveness, expressed a desire to be closer to God and asked the Lord to guide him on a more moral path. A reading from Revelations 3:20 particularly inspired him. It recounted that Christ said: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.”

Heretofore he had been reluctant to answer the door, partly because he had “a rap sheet” of so many sins and bad decisions that he didn’t think he deserved to be closer to God. That day he opened his heart a bit, and the Holy Spirit “dive bombed” into his life, he said.

Once home, he received God’s forgiveness through reconciliation. He advised the youth at the conference that instead of running away from God and trying to hide their sins, they should run toward God and fall into his welcoming, loving arms. Reminding the audience that Christ sought out the “shady people, the sketchy ones,” Mr. Kim emphasized that no matter what they have done or failed to do, God loves them and forgives them, and likewise they are called to love others.

The purpose of life, he said, is “to know God, to be loved by God, to love God and to serve God.”

He said if a rope were stretched across the stage to represent the thousands of years of human history from the first human beings until Jesus returns, one’s life would be the width of a pinky. And if one wraps that rope around and around, the rope still would not be as long as eternity; so it is important to use that pinky-width of one’s life to “live well;” that is to glorify God, to develop a relationship with God and in so doing to help and love one another, he explained.

“How you live determines how you will spend all of eternity,” Mr. Kim said.

He said that when one goes before the Lord for final judgment, God isn’t going to ask questions like “how popular were you in school, how pretty was your girlfriend, or how many followers do you have on Instagram?” Rather, God will judge individuals on their behavior, particularly on how they treated others because whenever a person does a good deed like feeding the hungry or ministering to prisoners, he is doing it to Jesus, he said.

“It’s amazing the way you can change a person’s life just by how you treat them,” Kim said, adding that liking a person is not the same as loving him. “Like,” he maintained, is an emotion, but “love” is an action and a choice; it’s something one does.

He added that each individual must discover his own talents and how he can use them to make a difference in the world, but he also said the sacraments, especially receiving the Eucharist, can give a person the strength and ability to do so.

His message resonated with many of the youth at the rallies.

Michael Dayton, an 8th-grader from Church of the Holy Spirit in Virginia Beach, said the conference gave him a new perspective on how to be a Catholic, so “rather than just going through the motions, ”he said he will listen to and spread God’s word.

Similarly, Ivan Torres, a seventh-grader at St. Pius X in Norfolk, said the conference “made me want to be a better person and to help a lot more people.”

Richard Creed, a student at Star of the Sea School in Virginia Beach, said the conference opened his heart.

“It feels like God just knocked down the door of my heart and then Jesus came in,” he said.

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