By Oscar Rivera Jr.

 Director of Diocesan Youth Ministry

EAST FREETOWN — A week prior to October 1, I found myself staring at my phone singing “Rain, rain go away, come again another day,” to God as a playful prayer, but an internally serious request, as I saw  reports of rain coming on the day that our outdoor event was scheduled. That song, however, was transformed to a song of praise on that day. 

Catholic Youth Day not only changed location to be on the mainland, but it also changed the time of year. Traditionally hosted at Martha’s Vineyard or somewhere on the Cape, this year’s Catholic

Youth Day was held at the historic Cathedral Camp and designed to be a kick-off for faith formation, youth ministry, and Confirmation. 

Oscar Rivera Jr., left, the diocesan director of Youth Ministry, leads a rap session with many of the area youth who attended the recent Diocesan Youth Day in East Freetown.

It was not what the teens were expecting. They came in seeing banners of Catholic imagery, stage, lights, and music. The whole vibe, however, including the song selections, seemed to confuse the teens coming in. Their heads bobbed and bewildered looks spoke volumes. Their body language went from a sleep to “Hold up…this is Catholic Youth Day. Let’s go!”

Bishop da Cunha opened up the day with words of welcome and prayer, and the worship leader Lizzie Cotrupi-Pfunder, who has led for numerous 4th Watches, missions, retreats and the diocese’s first annual Parish Leader Convocation, led the teens in some music and games. She soon introduced the youth to the theme song for the day, “Way Maker,” by Leeland. Shortly after that introduction, special guest Chika Anyanwu took  the stage. She traveled from Pittsburgh, Penn., by way of California, to share the Good News with the young church. Chika broke bread with numerous groups and spent time with our parish volunteers and youth ministers. Chika commented after the event, “The Diocese of Fall River Youth  [Day] was amazing! There was something for everyone: from games and activities, acoustic and rap music, Holy Mass and Adoration, and even an exhibit of Eucharistic miracles!”

There truly was something for everyone in attendance, and it showed that the diocese sees the cultural mosaic of our deaneries. Chika added, “What made it even more memorable for me were the amazing teens and youth ministry volunteers from all across the diocese. Fall River is blessed to be comprised of many cultures and ethnicities and it was fun to sit in on small groups and lunch conversations to talk about what unites us as a family of faith.”

Isabella, a Confirmation candidate of St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown, said, “I really enjoyed the rap concert and Oscar (Rivera) was tremendously funny. I liked meeting new people and spending the day with my friends. “The inspirational speakers were great and I loved the gaming bus!”

Xander, a young parishioner from St. Francis Xavier, Acushnet said,  “It was a great experience. My friends were there but it was also cool to see a lot of other kids.  The music was awesome  and the talks were great and also really funny. I liked being able to spend the day with the bishop and go to Adoration.”

Their statements demonstrate the importance of community and reveal the desire that young parishioners have to be in community with their local group, but also be a part of something greater: the Catholic Church universal. 

Father Jack Schrader of St. John Neumann Parish said, “Catholic Youth Day in Freetown was spectacular. The youth participants were into it. The live music and talks inspired us. We were all built up by the joyful message of Christ and impressed by the quality encounter.”

We plan to recapture this day with two more events called Twenty96. Twenty96 will be a condensed Catholic Youth Day event hosted at one of our parishes. The first-ever Twenty96 will be hosted at St. John of God, Somerset and open to all eighth to twelfth graders.

At the close of Catholic Youth Day, Bishop da Cunha told a story in his homily of a village that was ravaged by a drought, and the pastor told all the people in the village that they were to dedicate an hour of prayer and to bring objects of faith for inspiration. Many came with crosses, Bibles, and Rosaries, but one kid brought an umbrella. This kid was prepared for God to answer their prayers and brought the one object that was a testament of his childlike faith. Bishop da Cunha told the young church, “The world can be better because there are people who believe, who want to do better. So don’t wait.

 “Believe in God even when He’s silent. If you pray for rain, do you bring an umbrella?”

I was trying to avoid bringing umbrellas, but the rain that came did fulfill a spiritual drought in many of the participants’ hearts: the drought of the faithful community. 

They communed with one another via conversations, games, laughter or the food provided by the Knights of Columbus of St. Anthony of the Desert. They received the Body of Christ in the Breaking of Bread, and ultimately communed with Jesus Christ through the Sacred Liturgy and Adoration. 

The night ended with the 200 youth from our diocese at Catholic Youth Day singing from their hearts, as it rained outside: “You are way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God, that is who you are!” 

It may have rained on my parade and ruined my earthly plan of utilizing the grounds of our historic Cathedral Camp, but Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist reigned in their hearts, and ruined Satan’s plans instead.