By CHRISTOPHER ORLET
“You are the future of the Catholic Church!”
That was one of the main messages delivered to more than 90 teenagers and pre-teens June 29 at the annual Diocesan Hispanic Youth Day.
The gathering was sponsored by the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry and held at the Pastoral Center in Belleville. It was a day of reflection, prayer and fun.
The keynote speaker, Father Salvador “Chava” Gonzalez, OMI, a member of the ministerial team at the King’s House Retreat Center in Belleville, told the youth that through Baptism God has claimed each one of them into the body of Christ.
“Our parents said ‘I want God to claim him or her in Baptism,’” he said.
“After that, God continually claims us throughout our lives in the sacraments. In Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders, and finally Holy Orders, and finally Anointing of the Sick.
“Remember whose you are,” Father Gonzalez said. “Remember who you belong to.”
Father Gonzalez told the teens a story about getting into trouble when he was a young man. He said when his mother arrived at the police station to pick him up she told the arresting officer, “This boy? He ain’t mine. You can keep him.” She then turned to the young man and said, “I don’t recognize you. You didn’t learn that behavior from me. You must be someone else’s child.
“Then, after I panicked, she claimed me,” Father Gonzalez said.
He continued: “God will never say the words my mom said: ‘He’s not mine!’” Father Gonzalez said.
The priest then asked the children to imagine what would happen if they were all the same. If they all looked and acted alike.
“Wouldn’t that be boring?” he said. “Wouldn’t this life be dull? The reason God made us unique is because diversity enriches us. We have so much to give in our diversity.”
Father Gonzalez then went on to relate a few staggering statistics to put Hispanic ministry into perspective for the teens.
He noted that 45 million Catholics speak Spanish in the United States.
Additionally, according to the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops:
Hispanic Youth Day speaker: ‘You are our future’
“Our presence in church is essential,” he said. “God has put us here on purpose. There is strength in numbers.”
Hispanics are breating new life into the Catholic Church, Father Gonzalez said. “So many churches only see funeral after funeral after funeral.
“For so many churches, if we weren’t there they wouldn’t be there. They’d die. It’s like families and communities when they no longer have members.
Without new life they die, they wither away. But God always raises up new life and God promised his body would be alive for all time,” he said.
Father Gonzalez told the teens that they were the ones God has sent to bring new life into his body.
“That is an awesome thing to keep in mind, an awesome responsibility. We are the promise of God being kept. God has empowered you to keep the faith alive. If we don’t who will?”
Father Gonzalez concluded, “Yesterday God spoke Hebrew. Today he spoke Spanish.” The children applauded loudly.
Earlier, youth gathered at the Pastoral Center for lunch and an afternoon activity.