Monday, April 26, 2021
Teresa Martinez - Florida Catholic
Photography: JONATHAN MARTINEZ | FC
MIAMI GARDENS | On a beautiful spring evening, the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, around 200 people gathered at St. Thomas University for a night of worship and music, a festival-style event for people of all ages headlined by EPIC the Band.
The April 10, 2021 outdoor concert featured testimonials, adoration, and music while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols. Organizers set up a drive-in style simulcast which allowed attendees to listen, watch, and tailgate from their vehicles. Outdoors, the sprawling green space on campus allowed people to watch comfortably within their groups/pods in a picnic-like environment.
The crowd ranged from families to youth groups to high school and university students to priests and religious. Some watched from the comfort of their car while others chose to sit outdoors on the green and take in the experience live.
“We are fans of EPIC the Band, so it was important for us to come out and support,” said Javier Cardena, a parishioner at St. John the XXIII in Miramar, who praised the great organization and was grateful for the option to listen and pray while sitting “comfortably in our car.”
“I hope that the young people that are here realize that there’s more than just what the secular world has to offer them and that through Jesus they can find both solutions to their problems and hope,” Cardena said.
EPIC the Band, Miami-based and internationally known for their Christian contemporary hip-hop music mixed with Latin fusion, took the stage multiple times throughout the evening and kept the attendees totally engaged. The five-member band performed for Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Panama 2019. The band also has headlined many conferences throughout the United States, including Eucharistic Congress and NorCal on Fire.
St. Thomas University typically hosts the annual Mercy Night for young peoplesponsored by the Archdiocese of Miami. That night of worship was postponed this year due to the pandemic.
“Not having Mercy Night created an opening for St. Thomas University to step in and provide a much-needed night of worship for the whole family,” said Anthony Pinto, director of Campus Ministry. “We are also very fortunate to have a wonderful grant through the Lilly Foundation called STU Impact designed for vocational discernment and initiatives for young adults. This grant allowed us the opportunity to host the EPIC Night of Mercy and bring awareness to St. Thomas University.”
Having the event coincide with Divine Mercy Sunday was not an accident, said Pinto. “We want to bring Christ to this campus and bring people together after a year with so many challenges. We thought, let’s use our beautiful campus and unite people for a live event all while doing it in a safe environment. This event allows the neighboring communities, the Catholic communities to come together, and what better way to unite people than under God’s mercy.”
In addition to EPIC the Band, artists Dana Catherine and the STU Choir performed. Testimony by St. Brendan High School teacher Veronica Macias, archdiocesan vocations director Father Matthew Gomez, and Sister Maria Jose Socias, director of novices for the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, motivated the crowd and opened the door to discuss the meaning of Divine Mercy Sunday and the importance of vocations.
“Experiencing God’s love in action and wanting to share that transformative love for everyone has brought me here today,” said Macias, who also shared her testimonial about Divine Mercy. “I hope that people walk away from tonight’s event with the hope that the Church is still alive and that the future is now and present. I hope that they walk away with the conviction of God’s mercy for them individually.”
“It’s really nice to hear godly music instead of the normal worldly music we tend to hear,” said Brianna Morales, a member of One Body, Spirit, Mind youth group from St. Joseph Church in Miami Beach. “I think it’s really important, especially now during such a difficult time and people are losing faith and hope, to reconnect with God through events like this because it helps us to move forward and give us a break from all the noise in the world.”
“As a member of campus ministry, the moment I heard about this event I knew I wanted to be part of it,” said STU freshman Dylan Francisco. “I was super excited to hear EPIC the Band would perform, and I wanted to get as many high school students on campus for this experience as possible. It’s a great celebration of Divine Mercy and my hope is that people (high school students) see STU and our campus and want to come to this great Catholic school.”
“I was drawn to the event with the hope of meeting new people,” said Jose Valladares, a senior at Miami Senior High School. “As a future STU student, it was really a nice way to see the campus. Being here feels very peaceful.”
“It’s important to have an event like this during so much difficulty because the message of mercy reminds us that love is stronger than death and God is stronger than any suffering and he can help us overcome any struggle,” said Sister Evelyn Montes de Oca of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts, associate campus minister at STU. “The Lord said to Saint Faustina, if the world does not turn to my mercy, it will not find peace. During such turbulence in the world, we need to be reminded of God’s mercy which is the only path to peace.”
The underlying theme of the night was the promotion of vocations. With the STU Impact summer immersion program at the forefront, organizers were hoping to inspire high school students to enroll.
“Thanks to the grant provided to us by the Lilly Foundation we not only are able to host tonight’s event, but we are able to host the STU Impact summer program,” said Sister Evelyn.
STU Impact is an all-expense paid immersion program for students in grades 10-12. It will take place June 13-18 for girls and June 20-25 for boys.
“It’s going to be an awesome experience where they will stay on the STU campus and hear from married couples, priests, religious and learn about vocations and how God has created them as a gift,” Sister Evelyn said. “It will be a great week of fun, service, and reflection on the meaning of life and how God is calling us to serve.”
Click here to watch the EPIC Night of Mercy on the St. Thomas University YouTube channel.