Nearly 200 high school students and adults attend the annual Youth Mass, where many receive honors for their service
By Bill Brewer
Diocese of Knoxville youth are getting schooled on how to get engaged.
OK, not that kind of engaged.
We’re talking about more one-on-one engagement with others and less reliance on cell phones and social media to interact with people.
Call it a ministry of texting and messaging.
The diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry is featuring on its website a humorous video by Internet comedy duo Rhett and Link that challenges youth to “Get Off the Phone.” While funny in its presentation as a spoof on phone habits, the diocesan message is unmistakable: the Catholic Church wants young adults, teens, and pre-teens to be more engaged in their personal relationships and act Christ-like when communicating via phone or social media.
“These young people are bombarded with messages all day long. We are helping our youth realize they live in two worlds: their real, everyday, faith-based world and the digital world,” said Deacon Al Forsythe, director of the diocese’s Office of Youth Ministry.
As part of youths’ digital lives, Deacon Forsythe said it is critical to show them how they can lose interpersonal connectedness even when they “friend” someone.
“The emotion is gone. It becomes an anonymous friendship,” he pointed out. “Jesus commands us to go out and make disciples of all nations. If we do this in the digital world, we must do it with love.”
Technology has evolved to the point where you can communicate with others anonymously, giving people license to often comment in extremely negative ways without ever being identified.
Father Joe Reed, associate pastor of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and director of vocations for the diocese, delivered the homily at the annual Youth Mass on Sept. 9. His message: love is the subtext by which you should be communicating everything.
Father Reed said this subtext that Jesus wants us to glean from all the Gospels, and that St. Paul wants us to know, is that “love desires no evil.”
Nearly 200 high-school students and adults from around the diocese took part in the Youth Mass, held at The Barn at Cedar Ridge in Loudon County. In attending the Mass and outdoor activities, the students carried with them their faith, a determination to have fun, and their mobile phones.
Father Reed began Mass by asking the youth how many of them text on their phones.
“OK, don’t be afraid to raise your hands. How many of you text? C’mon, raise your hands if you text, or if you instant message, or Snapchat, or if you’re on Facebook,” he asked.
The response was virtually unanimous, and it wasn’t limited to young people. Adults were just as active on mobile phones.
Even Father Reed acknowledged that Bishop Richard F. Stika must prod diocesan priests off their phones during meetings with all the priests.
“Many of us text. We text in all different ways; on our phones; we have social media of all types,” he said. “In a way, that is what St. Peter is dealing with; Jesus is dealing with; St. Paul is dealing with. They used the media of their day. They wrote letters and they told stories. Most of Scripture was actually word of mouth before it was written down. Scripture means ‘written.’ But it was just told to people. The stories about Christ, everything he did, those were shared verbally. The Old Testament, people memorized all those genealogies that we hear and told others. It’s only later that they were written down.”
But with prodigious communication comes responsibility.
“Now, we do a whole lot of writing. Sometimes things that we could say to someone face-to-face we do in a text. I do it. It happens at general priest meetings. The bishop has to say, ‘Hey guys, put your phones away.’ Even the bishop has to put his phone away,” Father Reed said. “With every text, whether we like it or not, there is a subtext and a context. There is something underlining what we’re writing. It is something that gives the whole reason behind what we’re writing, the situation in life.”
He called love the fulfillment of God’s law.
“Love is the subtext by which you should be writing everything. It should be there underneath everything that you say, everything that you write, in fact, it should be the subtext of everything you do,” he said.
With mobile phones and social media come independence and a kind of power. And to whom much is given, much is expected.
Father Reed said St. Peter is told by Jesus that he will be given the keys to the kingdom and will be given the power to bind, or restrict, and loose, or release.
“The context is that God has given St. Peter a choice, and He gives all of us a choice: life or death, blessing or curse. Choose blessing and choose life, that you may have them in abundance. Peter isn’t the only one who has been given the power of binding and loosing. God has given it in a very specific way, so that He can loose us from sins and from the consequences of sins,” Father Reed told the youth.
He also told the kids, who were gathered inside a converted barn for the Mass, that we all share in the power to bind and loose.
“Think about that with your texting and the messaging that you do. How many of us, when we text, don’t have a subtext of love? A text is a nice little fortress. It lets us say what we want to say, and we can speak our mind about another person. Sometimes we skip that first step in the Gospel of dealing with a person one on one. You need to talk it out. And if that doesn’t work, then you go to the next step,” the priest said.
Father Reed described a culture in which kids today are growing up — one where they immediately want to take hard sides, hard stances. So, they tweet, they text, they Snapchat, they Instagram, and they post on Facebook.
“And we do it very harshly, very loudly. So we really don’t have a subtext of love. We have a subtext of pride, or a subtext of right, or a subtext of power in some ways. But the Lord says no. Love desires no evil. Love is speaking of the good of others at all times. God is love. He so loves the world that he gave his only Son. He so loves the world that he made us so that He could love all the more,” Father Reed said.
He emphasized to the students that the responsibility of binding and loosing must be a part of our ministry of texting and messaging. He urged them to not drop text bombs or message bombs about people.
“This commandment of love is desperately needed in our world today. It’s part of being a true leader — leading from love, not leading from pride or power. And realizing that your mission in this world as a Christian is to give everything you can for God and your neighbor. In doing that, you will learn to love yourself,” he said. “St. Paul gave a shout out to Jesus when he said, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’
That fills out that context. The only three people we have to love in this world are God, everybody else, and ourselves. It’s not always easy. The more we strip away things that we love, the more we find that there are people who we can love.”
“Let that love be a subtext of everything we do and say,” he said to conclude his homily. Deacon Forsythe thanked the youth and adults attending Mass and the day of activities for all they do during the year to minister to the diocese’s young people.
“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I never get tired of it. I think I probably have the best job in the whole world because I get to work with a terrific staff of people on a regular basis,” he said. “I’m excited, not only because I get to work with a great staff, but I get to travel around the diocese and I get to meet wonderful parents, youth leaders in our parishes, and especially our young people.”
The Office of Youth Ministry recognized students and adults who have taken leadership roles in serving the diocese’s youth.
This year’s recipients of the youth Discipleship Award were: Claudia Della Santina and Czarina Pallone from Holy Cross Parish in Pigeon Forge; Bryce Tuggle from Our Lady of Fatima in Alcoa; Emily Roach and Savannah Tucker from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga; Marley Minneci and Estrella Gomez from St. Alphonsus in Crossville; Brian O’Reilley and Megan Flynn from St. John Neumann in Farragut; Keely Hein and Lizette Juarez from St. Jude in Chattanooga; Pedro Medina and Bethany Quilty from St. Mary in Oak Ridge; Eleno Orozoco and Alexandra Reynoso from St. Michael the Archangel in Erwin; Anna Kutbay and Logan Shafer from St. Patrick in Morristown; and Thatcher Miles and Fernanda Tellez from St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland.
This year’s recipients of the Light of the World Award recognizing adults were: Sarah Ward from Our Lady of Fatima; John Peaslee, Dr. Kim Peaslee, Deacon Peter Minneci, and Dianne Minneci from St. Alphonsus; Zane Wilkinson from St. Jude; Lydia Donohue and Caleb Scroback from St. John Neumann; Wanda Redding from St. Mary in Athens; Courtney Sullivan and Mary Haley from St. Mary in Oak Ridge; Steve Miles and Zully Manzanares from St. Michael the Archangel; Deb Miksa from St. Patrick; Jesus Felix and Andrea Felix from St. Thérèse of Lisieux; and Emmanuel Espinoza and Adriana Gonzales from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Lenoir City.
The St. Timothy Award, the highest recognition the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the Diocese of Knoxville confers on high school youth that is presented to young people who generously serve their peers and youth ministry with dedication, was presented to Jose Salazar from St. Patrick in the Five Rivers Deanery, Jackson Ducote from Our Lady of Fatima in the Smoky Mountain Deanery, and Maria Espinoza from St. Thomas the Apostle in the Cumberland Mountain Deanery.
The Companions on the Journey Award, the highest recognition the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and the Diocese of Knoxville confers on an adult that is given to adults whose service to youth ministry is exceptional, was presented to Kathy O’Brien from St. Michael the Archangel in the Five Rivers Deanery, Debbie Mirra from St. Stephen Parish in the Chattanooga Deanery, and Pauline O’Keeffe from St. Alphonsus in the Cumberland Mountain Deanery.
Father Reed also commissioned the 2017-18 Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council. The new DYMAC leaders are Aaron Manzanares, Bernice Luquin, Sarah Tollefson, Darlin Navarro, and Jacob Haynes from the Five Rivers Deanery; Emily Roach, Savannah Tucker, Kersten Hicks, Isaac Bird, A.J. Carreon, Jason Oliver, Katie Garcia, Katherine Guandique, Lizette Juarez, Matias Ron, and Anna Barbosa from the Chattanooga Deanery; Patricia Anguiano, Bethany Quilty, Meghan Campbell, Julia Hicks, Lauren Schenk, and Clara Hay from the Cumberland Mountain Deanery; and Reginal Wol, Bryce Tuggle, Mike Strong, Hannah White, Claudia Della Santina, Jackson Ducote, and Robert Lyszczarczyk from the Smoky Mountain Deanery.
“This is when we get to celebrate our youth and our youth leaders, and recognize those young people and adults in our parishes and our deaneries who have done outstanding work in youth ministry,” Deacon Forsythe said. “And we get to recognize our Diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Council. Without our DYMAC leaders, we couldn’t do all that we do in our Youth Ministry Office for the Diocese of Knoxville.”
Deacon Forsythe also recognized Brittany Koepke of the Hispanic youth ministry program; youth ministry administrative assistant Karen Byrne; Margaret Merrill, youth ministry coordinator for the Challenge/Conquest program; Donna Jones, youth ministry coordinator for the Chattanooga Deanery; Deacon Dan Hosford, youth ministry coordinator for the Cumberland Mountain Deanery; Deacon Jim Fage, youth ministry coordinator for the Five Rivers Deanery; and Beth Parsons, youth ministry coordinator for the Smoky Mountain Deanery.
He considered the Youth Mass and the daylong activities surrounding it a big success that effectively highlighted the dynamic youth ministry occurring in parishes throughout the diocese.
“It was really a good affirmation of who our youth are in our diocese. They are recognized by adults and their peers, and their lives reflect what the Church teaches,” Deacon Forsythe said.