By Tony DeGol
On the Second Sunday of Lent, the story of the Transfiguration – with Jesus, Peter, James, and John on the holy mountain – reminded us that the Lord’s suffering and death will end in glory.
Youth from throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown were on their own physical and spiritual mountain of sorts that day.
“This has been a great day, but don’t let it stop here,” Bishop Mark L. Bartchak urged the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. “When you’re coming down off the mountain after we finish celebrating this Eucharist, take Jesus with you. He wants to be with you every day of your life.”
The students were gathered for the annual Junior High Youth Day on March 17. Sponsored by the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry and held at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg, the theme was Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God.
“Just open your heart to him and say ‘Lord you helped me to create a clean heart, be with me always, and I’ll trust you with everything else,’” Bishop Mark suggested.
We are asking God to fill our heart and make it clean, reminded the keynote presenter Chris Rogers, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
“And then understanding that the heart is what brings life to everything in our body,” he said. “The spiritual heart also brings life into everything we do. It feeds everything, so we want to make the connection that a clean heart not only affects us but all of our relationships and everything we do.”
One of many points Rogers stressed was the importance of separating one’s self from individuals who are negatives influences.
That message was not lost on students such as Thomas Urbain.
“Sometimes you realize that people around you are doing things that they shouldn’t be doing, and if they’re trying to pressure you to do those things as well, they’re not your friends,” the eighth grader at All Saints Catholic School in Cresson stated. “You need to surround yourself with people who want the best for you and want you to succeed.”
Urbain said he was eager to share the message of the day with family and friends.
“Jesus wants the best for us, he wants our hearts to be clean, our minds to be clean,” he added.
Hailey Dzurko, a 7th grade student and member of Saint Anthony of Padua Parish in Windber, also came away with a powerful message.
“I think that it’s all about teaching us to go to Confession and confess our sins to God and start fresh every once in a while,” she noted. “I’m definitely going to take all of (Rogers’) words into consideration as I live my daily life.”
Sheila McAlkich said the day inspired her to move beyond the past and focus on the present. She also loved coming together with other young people from around the diocese.
“It’s about meeting new friends and then coming together and communicating with them and trying to share that faith with them in the future,” observed the eighth grader and member of Saint Mark Parish in Altoona.
Junior High Youth Day is just one of many events throughout the year offered by the Office of Youth Ministry. Francine Swope coordinates all activities with assistance from planning teams.
A Senior High Youth Conference (SHYCON) happens in the fall. There are also summer camp opportunities and the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.
The key to all great youth events is inspiring young people to take what they have experienced, apply it to their daily lives, and share it with others, as Bishop Mark encouraged in his homily.
By the end of Junior High Youth Day, Richard Scholzen, a seventh grader at All Saints Catholic School, seemed poised to do just that.
“As soon as I leave I’m going to share the message with my little sister, so she can share it with her friends, so they can share it with their friends then everyone will get the message, not just us,” he said. “It’s everyone’s message to have.”