By Marie Mischel and Laura Vallejo
SALT LAKE CITY — More than 300 youth from throughout the Diocese of Salt Lake City filled the stands of the St. Vincent de Paul School gymnasium for the March 3 Lenten rally at which they prayed, sang and heard the Good News.
At the beginning of the day, Bishop Oscar A. Solis introduced himself to the youth. In his comments, he told them that “Lent is an opportunity to change ourselves for the better.”
Most of the time people make mistakes, “but we have a loving, caring God who always forgives,” he said. “That’s why we should always be happy, knowing that God is never going to abandon us.”
Catholics “are called to be a faith family, in order to unite our hearts with Jesus,” he said, adding that he hoped that the youth would view the day as an invitation to give God a chance to become a part of their lives.
The speakers for the rally, which had the theme “Walk With Me,” were Fr. Eleazar Silva, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, and Fr. Sébastien Sasa Nganomo Babisayone, associate pastor of Saint Ambrose Parish, who both told the youth that “Jesus is here. Jesus continues today his mission in this country, in your family, in my family. … We have the presence of Jesus in our lives,” as Fr. Sasa said.
The priests spoke in both English and Spanish.
Fr. Eleazar Silva’s message to the youth was straightforward: “God wants a relationship with you.”
Expounding on this, Fr. Silva used the story of God’s interactions with the Jewish people as told in the Old Testament books of Exodus, when God reveals his name; then in Isaiah, where God promises to be one with his people; and thirdly in the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus promises his disciples that he will be with them until the end of time.
With that background, Fr. Silva encouraged the youth to let God into their lives. His message to the youth, he said, was “God wants to be with you. Let him live with you, let him stay with you.”
Fr. Silva also suggested that the youth talk with God the way they would with a friend through the social media app Snapshot: “Tell him what is going on, tell him what you are feeling inside, and then trust his name. And use his name to do good to others. Use his name to do good to yourself.”
In his talk, titled “Walk with Me,” Fr. Sasa said to all the youth, “We are here for God. … We are here to follow Jesus, to reflect, to pray together.”
Referring to the temptations Jesus underwent in the desert before the start of his public ministry, Fr. Sasa acknowledged that the youth, too, are tempted, but they should listen to their parents, who only want what is best for them.
He also urged the youth to “be with our brothers and sisters … to form the big family of the Church … because you are not alone. God is near you. God loves you. Jesus loves you. And it’s important for you guys to be with Jesus.”
The secret is to be with God every day, to do his will and to walk with Jesus rather than alone, Fr. Sasa said. “Jesus opens the way for you. Jesus can guide you to become a free person. That’s important for us, to be a free person, because you need to be free from your hate. … If we are with Jesus, we are not alone. We are with our brothers, our families, our parish.”
Those who follow Jesus must continue to do what he did; his actions are summed up in the Spiritual and Corporeal Works of Mercy, Fr. Sasa said, and listed these works.
In addition to listening to the speakers, the youth participated in various activities, including a prayer vigil in memory of the victims of the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14.
The youth attended for various reasons.
“I am here because my mom brought me,” said Francisco Mendez, from Saint Francis of Assisi Parish.
“I came today to learn more about God and for Confirmation,” said Melissa Rios from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.