Annual Youth Convention:
Beatitudes, Christ and jugglers — oh my!

By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Students from area Catholic schools and parishes will “Have a Be-Atitude” as Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth and St. Pope John Paul II High School in Hyannis host the Diocese of Fall River’s Office of Faith Formation’s annual Youth Convention and Middle School Rally on March 22-24.

The students who attend the annual Catholic Leadership Institute every year plan the event, said Claire McManus, director of the Office of Faith Formation.

“The CLI trains kids for leadership and as part of their training they have to demonstrate leadership in planning. In the past, before they planned the convention, they were supposed to go back to their parishes and show that they had learned these leadership skills,” said McManus, “but not every parish was really ready to receive their training.”

Realizing that the skills being learned could be put to better use, McManus and her staff decided that the students could plan the diocese’s annual youth convention: “It’s been very successful. They do everything,” she said.

The students came up with Beatitudes as the theme for this year, and a play on the spelling became “Be-Atitude”: “These kids are great, what a wonderful group of kids,” said McManus of the recent CLI grads who have been heavily involved in the planning since last year. “They’re going to be doing a prayer experience, which is kind of a vignette, and it will show what it means to have a ‘be-atitude.’ They’re going to create a prayer environment and will be assisting at Mass.”

After Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., observes his first time being at the convention by celebrating Mass, there will be a two-hour block for the two workshops being offered. Shawnee Baldwin, director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of Hartford, will be leading one of the workshops, which will be focused on the using the Luminous Mysteries as the structure to show how teen-agers can deal with various kinds of stress in their lives.

“She’s good,” said McManus of her colleague and member of the New England Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education. “She does presentations at national and regional workshops.”

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APeX Ministries is the keynote presenter for the event and will also be presenting a workshop.

“They’re not just jugglers — that’s their act — but they do witness stories about their life and finding Christ,” said McManus, of the two-man evangelists group who will be performing. “They’re very entertaining and a lot of fun, and when you’re working with teen-agers, you want to give them a clear Christian message but also keep them moving. These guys have been doing this for many years.”

APeX Ministries is the brainchild of Brad Farmer and Gene Monterastelli. Formed in 1996, the two men travel all over the United States and share the Gospel through their unique “Christian vaudeville” style. Monterastelli and Farmer grew up in the same parish in Casper, Wyo. and a couple of years after graduating from high school together, found themselves looking for a direction in life.

“Between our junior and senior year in college, we were just trying to figure out what we wanted to do with our lives and this idea of doing this type of ministry together just kind of came bubbling up. We both had gotten a lot out of our youth ministry experience,” said Monterastelli of their time giving talks on retreats as college students, “and wanted to get back to that, so we looked at the gifts we had — we were storytellers and jugglers — and thought those would be an interesting way to have conversations.”

Each presentation is tailored to the demographic of the audience, and Monterastelli said that when talking to teen-agers and youth, he and Farmer know that those still-developing minds are being presented with big theological concepts that are hard to process: “Eternity is a hard thing for a 13-year-old to access,” said Monterastelli, but telling young people to treat others with respect and love because everyone is part of the Body of Christ “is something that really resonates.

“They know what it’s like when they aren’t treated well, and they know what it’s like when they are treated well, and even if they cannot clearly articulate that, they know how significant that is in their lives. You can ask a middle school student to be respectful or pay attention, but you can’t ask a middle school student to stop being 13.”

The men engage their audience by telling parables through sketch comedy, and use juggling and street performance-style art to connect with spectators. Monterastelli and Farmer also share personal testimony of Spiritual realities and explore the Catholic themes of the parables.

“The approach we have in working with young people is through two very simple messages,” said Monterastelli. “One is ‘you are loved and worthy of love,’ and the second is ‘you are gifted and called where you are.’ The way we live out our Christian identity is in the interactions we have daily, like with our parents or classmates or teachers, and we understand that who we are manifests itself in the small choices, not just in the big choices.”

On March 22 the high school convention will be held at Bishop Stang High School while on March 23, the high school rally will be held at Bishop Stang. On March 24, the junior high school rally will be held at St. Pope John Paul II High School. McManus said she knows that many parishes and schools look forward to having their students attend the convention and rallies because “what kids need right now to supplement the youth programs and Religious Education is to hear a witness story because that’s how Christianity is spread.

“The youth convention exists as a way of giving the parishes the big experience of having youth thinking all the same way about Christ. We have parishes that come every year; they look forward to this. There’s nothing like sitting in a room with other parishes and realizing that they are all worshipping the same way. Some of these kids are very outspoken about their faith. They may not be comfortable about evangelizing to a larger group but they may be comfortable if they’re with other kids who feel the same way. This is why I feel this convention is important — they’re going to hear adults speak about their faith but they’re also going to watch the CLI kids, that peer leadership is really important.”

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