Carrying the cross: youths learn about mercy and more at Junior High Rally


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — A rainy forecast threatened to put a stop to a two-mile, first-ever pilgrimage walk from Regina Catholic Education Center to St. Mary Church during the Junior High Youth Rally on April 10. The wet weather held off just long enough for the youths to start the walk in dry conditions. Because it wasn’t raining at the start, a backup plan to transport the youths by bus to the church was scrapped.
“We’re still on!” Youth Minister Mike Linnenbrink said just before the walk started.

Lindsay Steele Rain-soaked youths from St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville and St. Mary Parish-Oskaloosa carry a cross up the stairs of St. Mary Church in Iowa City during the Junior High Youth Rally April 10.
Lindsay Steele
Rain-soaked youths from St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville and St. Mary Parish-Oskaloosa carry a cross up the stairs of St. Mary Church in Iowa City during the Junior High Youth Rally April 10.

As the first parish group came within a block of the church, a downpour began. Rain didn’t dampen the youths’ spirits, though. Smiles stayed on their faces as they climbed the wet stairs up to the church and walked through the Holy Doors where Knights of Columbus were stationed.

The walk to the church’s Holy Doors and the Mass with Bishop Martin Amos that followed came at the end of a spirit-filled day for the 223 seventh and eighth-grade youths from around the diocese.


First, the youths arrived at Regina and got to know each other through interactive, team-building activities. Then, they listened to keynote presentations by Claire Long and Tony Vasinda, both of Project YM. Focusing on the day’s theme, “Dare to Follow Me,” Long spoke about actively responding to God’s call to recognize the gifts each person has been given and to use those gifts to glorify God by loving and serving others. “Our vocation, our calling is so much more than just some distant future or a state of life. Everyone — those in religious life, married, single, old, young — everyone has a general vocation to know, love and serve God with all of our mind, heart, soul and strength. We can and should respond to that call in our lives at all times, with everything that we do,” she said. She integrated worship music and games into her presentation to boost energy and participation among the youths.

Vasinda spoke about seeing Jesus as someone who is always there, instead of just someone who is there during prayer or other times of worship.

The youths participated in a variety of breakout sessions of their choosing. Luke Turner of St. James Parish in Washington enjoyed the breakout session that focused on meditation. “It taught me the importance of being able to slow down when life gets crazy and talk to God.”
Prior to the youths taking the pilgrimage walk to St. Mary’s, high school members of the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee (DYMC) showed them a video about mercy. DYMC members also organized three stations along the route where they gave the junior high youths a mercy-related question to contemplate: “What helps us take others more seriously?” “How can we take others’ suffering personally?” “How can we focus on what we can do as opposed to what we cannot do?”

DYMC member Louis DelVecchio of Our Lady of Victory Parish-Davenport said the committee hoped the stations would help youths learn to develop active relationships with people who are having a hard time. “You can help them just by making a connection,” he said.

Lupita DeLaRosa from St. James Parish-Washington took the messages to heart. “I learned how to care for others and always make sure to ask how they are doing.”

Accompanying the youths and staff to the church was a pine cross, making its debut at the Junior High Rally. Don Boucher, director of the Office of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry coordinator, said the cross will be used at all future youth events. It was crafted by Deacon Mike Sheil, a retired carpenter who serves at parishes in Charlotte, Delmar, Grand Mound, Petersville and Sugar Creek. His wife, Pat, is the director of Religious Education and Youth Ministry at St. Joseph Parish-DeWitt.

Once the students arrived safely inside St. Mary’s Church, parochial vicar Father Jeffry Belger explained that walking through the Holy Doors was the first step in receiving a plenary indulgence (a complete remission of temporal punishment) for the Year of Mercy. Communion and confession are two other elements.

As he waited for Mass to start, Luke Aschenbrenner, a seventh–grader from St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City, spoke excitedly about his first time attending the Junior High Youth Rally, recalling nearly word for word the lessons he learned during keynote speeches earlier in the day. “I learned that God is very important in everything we do. We need to include him in everything we do and not just have him be a part of our day. When we pray, we aren’t just letting him in at that time, he’s always there and we are just recognizing that when we pray.”

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