With encouragement from Fr. Patrick McConnell, Hudson, teens play giant Ker-Plunk during ice-breaker games March 26 at the Diocesan Youth Rally. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

With encouragement from Fr. Patrick McConnell, Hudson, teens play giant Ker-Plunk during ice-breaker games March 26 at the Diocesan Youth Rally. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald Staff

RIVER FALLS — High school and junior high students from the Diocese of Superior rallied around the sacraments March 26 in River Falls.

Between 400 and 450 teens traveled to St. Bridget Catholic Church for the annual Diocesan Youth Rally. Another 100 were expected to watch via a live feed.

This year, for the first time, teens from the eastern side of the diocese could go to St. Peter the Fisherman Parish, Eagle River, and join the rally from afar.

Organizers hoped the technological bridge would close the geographical gap.
“It’s just to bring our diocese together for some unity,” said Peggy Schoenfuss, diocesan director of Catholic faith formation and superintendent of schools.

The annual rally features a guest speaker, Mass with Bishop Peter Christensen, and music. Holy hour and reconciliation were included as part of this year’s sacramental focus, Schoenfuss said.

Eucharistic adoration is part of the diocesan effort to encourage parishes to hold regular adoration hours, she explained, and confession was added to demystify and promote the practice.

“We want to help kids understand the benefit of that sacrament,” she said.
Keynote speaker Courtney Brown, a New Orleans native who lives in Ohio, talked to teens about living the sacramental life. As an educator for Ruah Woods, a Catholic organization offering educational and psychological services, Brown has addressed students in Washington, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and “pretty much every Southern state.”

“My main ministry is to teach high school and college kids Theology of the Body,” he said.

Today’s teens face many challenges to their faith, according to Brown.
“One of the biggest challenges is having a personal encounter with Christ. That’s one. Finding church boring. That’s one. Obviously, social acceptance — being accepted by their peers  — is the huge thing that they desire,” he said.

What is characterized as deviant behavior — drinking, doing drugs, having premarital sex and more — all arise from the need for acceptance, Brown added.

“Maybe more so, they just want to know God is real,” he said.

Most of all, teens need personal, mentoring relationships with people at church, said Brown. “They need to be called out of the whole do-for-me mentality.”

The way to reach them is through face-to-face encounters, he emphasized, rather than through the sometimes isolating influence of social media.
“They need more personal contact,” he said.

Living out one’s faith was another of the rally’s themes, according to Megan Noll, diocesan director of youth and family ministry.

Bishop Peter Christensen spoke on sharing the gift of faith and showed a clip of Sicilian Sr. Cristina Scuccia, an Ursuline Sister of the Holy Family, performing on The Voice, the Italian equivalent of American Idol.

Sr. Cristina told the judges she wanted to share her gift with others, and the bishop urged teens to do likewise — follow the Ten Commandments and live out their faith.

“When we’re in love with the Lord, it changes everything. It changes everything. When we know the Lord’s love, and when we love the Lord, it changes the way we live, and we become a witness to our world,” he said.

Catholic musician Donny Todd was the headliner at St. Peter the Fisherman, and in River Falls, a young woman, Anna Romportl, provided her personal testimony on the importance of the Mass.

The youth rally’s sacramental theme was chosen to tie in with the Catholic Church’s new evangelization effort, Noll explained. A sacrament is “a living sign,” she said, a form of living witness.

Perhaps that’s what brought 17-year-old Elisabeth Pechacek to the event. She lives with her family in Hudson and attends religious education at St. Bridget; although the rally was required as part of her faith formation, she said she would have attended anyway.
Speaking before the main program, Pechacek said she wasn’t sure which of the evening’s speakers she was most eager to hear, but she was certain of one thing — she wanted to be there.