Bishop Stika to teens: You are the Church of today
By Will Brewer
As hundreds of youth from around the Diocese of Knoxville joined together in worship and praise at the Eucharistic Congress Sept. 13, Bishop Richard F. Stika posed an interesting question to them.
“How do you build a church?” he asked during the Youth Mass, which opened the diocese’s Eucharistic Congress to celebrate the 25th Jubilee.
Bishop Stika emphasized that the diocese’s youth are not the church of the future, they are the church of today.
The growing population of young people was on display at the Eucharistic Congress, a trend readily apparent to anyone who walked into the ballrooms full of students from across the diocese.
Whether it was the inspirational music coming from the Knoxville Catholic High School choir, enthusiastic teens from Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, or the initiation of this year’s Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council, which consists of high school students from around the diocese, it appeared obvious that the “Church of today” is very much alive.
Answering his question of how you build a church, Bishop Stika said, “Follow the Church legends of East Tennessee…and build it around the Eucharist.”
“See what God has in store for you tonight and this weekend,” he advised the students.
At the beginning of his homily, Bishop Stika looked around at the large student turnout and the impressively appointed altar and remarked, “I didn’t know we had a cathedral in Sevierville.”
Bishop Stika also advised the youth congregation to “welcome everybody this weekend with Southern hospitality.” And he also encouraged them to let their voices be heard.
“Don’t just sing, but sing with a purpose to reach out to God so that He will reach out to us,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika referred to legendary priests who started the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, exhibiting the evangelization spirit we are called on to continue.
“Many of the missions they started are large churches in the diocese today. This is much like the disciples did in Acts of the Apostles,” he said.
He also said, “‘where two or more are gathered in My name’…and there are a lot more than two here to pray before the Eucharist.”
Grant McKeown, a freshman at Knoxville Catholic High School, said Bishop Stika’s message about being the Church of today inspired him to evangelize and to start doing good for the Church now rather than wait until later in life.
“It could inspire a lot of people to go out and evangelize and reach out to people when they wouldn’t otherwise do so,” Grant said.
Claire Hendee, who ministers to the Exalt high school youth group at Sacred Heart Cathedral, said she hoped the Mass was a sign to the diocese’s youth that “their faith is not something that they ever graduate from or have to wait to start.”
Rather, as Hendee pointed out, there are several things that students can do now in order to grow in and deepen their faith.
After Mass, the diocesan youth took part in a concert featuring popular Christian artists Josh Blakesley and Sarah Kroger.
As the lights flashed and the music played, hundreds of students gathered in front of the stage waving their arms, singing together in fellowship and harmony.
In the middle of the concert, renowned speaker Paul George led students in a devotional talk to prepare them for adoration.
“Do not tune in to the voice that tells you everyday ‘not you…you’re not good enough,’” Mr. George said.
Instead, he told students to “tune into the voice that always tells you ‘I love you’ and find God this weekend so that you can live life to the fullest.”
After Mr. George finished speaking, students knelt and bowed down in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“I was moved by seeing all the young people kneeling in front of the monstrance and singing in praise,” said Patrick Nkurunziza, a college junior from Blessed John XXIII Parish on the University of Tennessee campus. “I could see them believe in His real presence right there in the moment.”
Grant McKeown believes there is more to do to answer Bishop Stika’s question about how to build a church.
“Even when you talk to students who go to Mass regularly, they can’t tell you what they just experienced or even what the homily was about,” he said. “It would be great to get teenagers excited about their faith and their Church again.”