Hector Suarez of Menomonee Falls understood his parents were busy the past two weeks and unable to attend church.
“But I really want God to be part of my life, so I thought it would be nice to come here,” said Suarez, 13, of his decision to join teen relatives in attending Saturday’s 13th annual St. John Bosco Youth Day on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill near Hubertus.
Beads of sweat covered Suarez’s forehead as he took a break from an impromptu volleyball match amid more than 1,800 other youth during the daylong rally beneath the towering twin spires of the basilica.
“I came here to learn more than I already know about God and then to show people I know how to have more involvement in their faith and God, based on what I learned here,” Suarez said.
A large bonfire reflected the event’s formal name, “Fire on the Hill,” while a long line of youths wound into a large tent where 28 priests heard confessions.
Other youths knelt in prayer on the grass floor of another large tent serving as an improvised eucharistic adoration chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a monstrance set on a folding table.
“I love adoration. Going to adoration gets me pumped up and ready to take on the world with a positive attitude about everything,” said Alice Gleeson, 15, of Kenosha, attending her second St. John Bosco event. “I’ve been exposed to this sort of energy recently, you know, attending youth rallies, and realized this is what I want to do with my life – teach others about God and how exciting it can be. Just going to adoration and saying a simple rosary can be the best thing you do all day.”
Theme is ‘believe’
The annual event, named after St. John Bosco, patron saint of youth, is organized and sponsored by the Discalced Carmelite friars who oversee operations at Holy Hill.
“It’s a great event for the Year of Faith and a great event for teens,” said Discalced Carmelite Fr. Donald Brick, rector at Holy Hill.
Fr. Brick said youths from throughout Wisconsin and northern Illinois participated.
“Our goal this year, as is our mission every year, was to encourage youth to follow the person of Jesus Christ, to be brave, courageous and heroic in following the Gospel of Christ, the person of Christ,” the priest said. “The lines for confession were great and we had a lot of kids participate in eucharistic adoration. It was a great occasion for them to embrace those beautiful and great events of our faith.”
Speaker warns against premarital sex
The day featured two keynote speakers, Fr. Michael Schmitz, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn. and chaplain at the University of Minnesota — Duluth, and Jackie Francois Angel, a singer, songwriter and speaker on the Catholic faith.
Turning to the Book of Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve, Francois Angel told teens to resist temptations to get involved in premarital sex.
“There was someone else lurking in that garden besides Adam and Eve. It was the serpent, Satan, the devil. The devil made Eve, and then Adam, not trust in God,” Francois Angel said. “The devil still tries to deceive you today, telling you, ‘Everyone else is doing it.’ The difference between a lukewarm Catholic and one who is on fire for God is not only believing in God’s existence, but also trusting in God.”
Israel Sanchez, 20, attended the rally with a group of Hispanic youth from the West Bend area “to learn more about Jesus, like how to be a good person.”
“I also wanted to see what I might be doing wrong in my worship of Jesus,” Sanchez said.
Lines form for confession
Fr. Schmitz, one of the 28 priests to hear confessions, said he was encouraged by the enthusiasm of youths eager to receive the sacrament.
“They ran to get in line. It was kind of a race, a stampede and really good to see,” Fr. Schmitz said.
His presentation focused on the difference between “faith that is just simple belief and faith that causes you to act.”
“I wanted the youths to ask themselves, ‘Am I a fan of Jesus or a follower of Jesus?’ The theme of this year’s rally was ‘Do not be afraid, just believe.’ We live in a world where a lot of things are dangerous and there are a lot of reasons to be afraid. But if we believe in Jesus, we can step out in our faith and be heroic and courageous,” Fr. Schmitz said.
Maria DeMeuse, director of youth ministry for the Green Bay Diocese, said adoration and confession are often taken for granted, “but days like today’s rally give us a reason and background on why we do what we do.”
A Milwaukee native who now lives in Green Bay, DeMeuse attended her first St. John Bosco day at Holy Hill in 2005 while a high school sophomore.
“We came (to Holy Hill) to ignite the youths with the passion and fire of Jesus Christ and to give them an encounter where they can see Jesus for who he is, especially in the sacraments and through the speakers, worship and fellowship,” she said.
Day sparked interest in vocation
Michael Malucha, 18, of Colgate, in his first year of college seminary at St. Joseph College Seminary at Loyola University in Chicago, said the event offers a unique venue to reach out to youth to consider a vocation in the church.
“Back in eighth grade, St. John Bosco day helped spark my interest in the priesthood,” said Malucha, who was confirmed at Holy Hill and took the stage Saturday to evangelize about vocations. “I was trying to increase the culture of vocations by focusing on vocations to the priesthood, religious life, holy marriage or the generous single life.”
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, the principal celebrant at Saturday’s Mass, said the annual rally is important “because it keeps youth close to the real source of the power of faith, which is Jesus Christ.”
“It allows them an opportunity among their peers to be supported by one another when they profess and witness their faith,” the archbishop said.
Event is ‘gift from God’
The event is a blessing from God through the Carmelites, said Fr. Jorge Miramontes, pastor at Holy Family Parish, a merged parish from Waterloo and Marshall, two communities in the Diocese of Madison.
“Just the fact the Carmelites are here is a gift from God. We should take advantage of this gift and use the resources we have to help the kids become holy,” the priest said.