Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Linda Reeves - The Florida Catholic Palm Beach
Photography: LINDA REEVES | FC
PLANTATION | The Archdiocese of Miami held a special event in February focused on a spunky young age group.
“My desire is to plant the seed. The Lord will do the rest,” said Father Elvis Gonzalez, archdiocesan vocations director and organizer of the Focus 11 vocations rally, designed for youngsters around the age of 11 from the archdiocese’s 47 Catholic elementary schools.
The 2019 rally, held in three different sessions to better accommodate the more than 2,500 youngsters attending, began Feb. 25 and 26 at host St. Agatha Parish in Miami. A Feb. 27 rally followed at St. Gregory Parish in Plantation with nearly 800 students from 18 schools participating.
“I have been holding the rally since 2012,” said Father Gonzalez about the annual program, aimed at introducing sixth-graders to the meaning of vocations and increasing the odds of them finding the special purpose God has in mind for them, whether it be marriage, parenting or single life, or even life as a religious brother or sister, priest or deacon.
Seminarians Leo Siqueira, Enzo Rosario Prendes, Gustavo Santos, Leo Siqueira, Nicholas Toledo, Hans Chamorro and Jeremy Lully were on hand, greeting the youngsters as their school buses arrived. Members of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary also were present, sharing their energy, enthusiasm and obvious passion for the Lord. The sleepy-eyed youngsters slowly came to life during the morning program as the sisters provided lively music and led songs, moving from pew to pew and dancing to the beat of the music.
An enthusiastic Father Gonzalez took the stage to welcome the youngsters. “You have been invited here today to meet a lot of people and at the end you will meet someone special,” he said, not revealing the honored guest of the day.
He established the tone of the day by explain, “This is an invitation to you to listen to what God is telling you. This is an invitation for you to decide what God wants you to do with your life. What is it that you want to become in the future?”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski arrived as the rally kicked off. He greeted the youngsters, and then asked the girls and boys, “Why is this called Focus 11?’”
He answered, “Because most of you are 11. People say when you get to be 11 years old, you are starting to think about your life.”
He pointed to statistics indicating that school-aged children about the age of 11 or so begin to think about their future, including youngsters who may have a calling to the priesthood or religious life.
He then asked the children to focus and listen throughout the day to what God might be telling them though the Holy Spirit, and through the words of program participants. “Today ask God what do you want me to do with my life? What do you want me to be? Whatever God is asking you to be, don’t be afraid,” Archbishop Wenski said.
During a mid- morning break, the children enjoyed lunch outside on the school grounds. The seminarians mingled and chatted with them, and the break gave children a time to socialize with their classmates and other young participants.
“It is an interesting event,” said Farah Barrat, a school chaperone. “It is informative. The students may think they want to be something (like a doctor, a police officer or teacher) but this event opens their eyes to other opportunities.”
DISCERNING THE CALL
After lunch, the girls went to the school gym and the boys gathered in the church for more activities and discussions. During the girls’ session, the Servants spoke about their callings from God to live as consecrated religious. Some of the young women were postulants continuing to discern the call. There were also some novices who had received their habits and continue their formation.
During the boys’ afternoon session, Father Bryan Garcia, administrator of St. Bernadette Parish in Hollywood, and Msgr. Michael Souckar, pastor of St. Andrew in Coral Springs, participated in discussions. The seminarians helping with Focus 11 sat in on the talks and one-by-one shared testimonies about their encounters with the Lord, and the nudging that finally led them on a path to the priesthood.
At one point, youngsters directed questions to the young seminarians, such as how many years it takes to become a priest and the advantages and disadvantages of the ministry.
Jonathan Castroman, a student at St. Lawrence School in North Miami Beach, was curious and a bit skeptical about the actual calling of God. “Does God rally talk to you,” he asked seminarian Chamorro.
“He is going to call you,” explained Chamorro, now in his fifth year of formation. He explained that he heard God loud and clear after intensifying his prayer life. He thought he would be a doctor, he said, but struggled with that idea after feeling God pulling his heart in another direction. “God is going to be persistent. God is there, and he is always calling,” explained Chamorro.
The afternoon concluded with the introduction of the special guest. “You had a chance to meet with Archbishop Wenski, the sisters, the seminarians and priests. The Lord is our last guest,” said Father Gonzalez. “The sisters and the priests (here today) followed him. What is the Lord telling you that he wants for your life? Don’t waste the time. Be silent as we get ready to meet the Lord.”
Father Gonzalez then processed around the church with the Blessed Sacrament displayed in a large, gold monstrance. He held Jesus high over the heads of the youngsters kneeling in the pews. Reaching the sanctuary, he placed the monstrance on the altar, giving the youngsters a chance to encounter the Lord and personally direct silent questions to him.
“Today is all about planting the seed of vocations in these boys and girls,” said seminarian Prendes, who is looking forward to ordination as a deacon in 2020, and as a priest in 2021.