By Celine Klosterman
CORALVILLE — Hunched over and speaking in a raspy voice, a guest introduced as Ray clutched a scrap of paper with trembling hands as he told his life story. Down on his luck, the man dressed in a worn flannel jacket and ragged cap mumbled that he wished others wouldn’t laugh at him.
“Maybe if you could see past the hoarse voice and shakiness, you’d see me in a new way — as a human being,” he said.
Shedding his coat, standing up straight and looking into the eyes of 550 people, he announced in a clear voice: “My name is John Donahue-Grossman, and I am your keynote speaker.”
His audience at the Davenport Diocese’s high school youth rally applauded.
“I didn’t come here to trick you,” he said Oct. 21 at the Marriott Conference Center. ‘I came to bring the Gospel home to you — as a person worthy of dignity and respect.”
Just three people he’d tried to chat with as “Ray” before his morning keynote had respected him enough to take up a conversation — a youth, a seminarian and a youth minister, he said. Of more than 1 million people introduced to “Ray” throughout the U.S., only 52 had talked with him. “Most of us pretend not to see me.”
“I dare you to see Christ in each other,” he said, encouraging youths to reach out to “outcasts” at their schools. “You have the power to lift someone up or to destroy someone” with bullying, gossip or exclusion.
He shared stories of an eighth-grader who committed suicide after being bullied at a Catholic school, a seventh-grader of Pakistani descent who’d been told to “go home,” and a black girl who told him she felt invisible at her mostly white church.
“You were made to serve,” Donahue-Grossman said. “Don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Addressing stereotypes about why people are homeless, he asked youths, “How many of you are lazy?” Hands went up throughout the room. “How many of you are homeless?” Their hands went down.
Similarly, some people drink or use illegal drugs, but don’t end up without a place to live because of their habit, he said.
Sixty percent of women without a home are victims of domestic violence, Donahue-Grossman said. “A good majority of homeless people in downtown Iowa City are mentally ill.”
Achieving justice for such people begins with compassion and compassion begins with understanding, he said. Pray about those virtues. “Prayer almost never changes God, but always changes us.”
He ended his presentation to a standing ovation.
The morning keynote was the highlight of the rally, whose theme was “Made to Serve.” The day also included breakout sessions on faith-related topics, prayer, music from Leap of Faith Ministries, Mass with Bishop Martin Amos and 10 diocesan priests, the presentation of DYMC (Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee) awards, commissioning of DYMC members and games.
During a breakout on Christian music, members of Leap of Faith Ministries and DYMC shared how rap, metal, pop and rock tunes with faith-based messages offered a positive alternative to secular music. Christian music had helped the breakout presenters grow in faith, they told about 25 youths.
Their session was one of 16 breakouts teens could chose from on topics including God-centered dating, vocations, service, advocacy for the “voiceless” and making knotted cord rosaries.
In an afternoon keynote, Donahue-Grossman discussed the sacraments and the meaning of the Eucharist. “The last word of Mass is ‘go,’” he said. “We come to church to be fed by the living God so we can go out and serve the Lord.”
“We need your energy and optimism to build the Church,” the speaker told youths. “You are the ones who will revitalize the Church.”
The rally inspired youths including Klaire Wisniewski and Alex Boots of St. Mary’s in Pella. “Everyone can take something away from it,” Boots said after the event. “We could all relate to one part, if not more” of Donahue-Grossman’s presentation, the student’s favorite part of the rally.
A breakout titled “Make It or Break It” made Wisniewski think about the need to stick with faith during hard times, because challenging situations can get even worse without it, she said. “No matter what you’re going through, something at the rally will speak to you.”
“It’s fun and eye-opening,” Joshua Wallerich of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington said of the event. “You learn more about your faith and get to meet new people.”
DYMC awards given
At the youth rally, student AJ Adam and adult Tom Perdan received the 2012 DYMC awards for advancement of comprehensive youth ministry. Adam is a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City and the DYMC, and Perdan is youth minister at Holy Family Parish in Davenport.
Adam was nominated by his youth minister, Patti McTaggart. Excited about his faith since childhood, Adam is a volunteer or leader in many ministries inside and outside of his parish, she noted.
Perdan was nominated by Julia Jones, youth minister at St. Ann’s in Long Grove. When she was a high school freshman “who wanted to say no to God,” Perdan reached out to her, as he has to many other students, she said.