Monday, March 11, 2019
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
Photography: JIM DAVIS | FC
PEMBROKE PINES | Pounding, rhythmic pop music, with the bass turned high, assaulted the ears as the 1,900-plus attendees took their seats. But no one minded — they were all teenagers.
For two hours, they got more music, plus videos, sing-alongs, school cheers — and urgent talks on the need to wait to have sex until marriage. This is the face of the annual archdiocesan rally known as Chastity Day.
The unusual blend of party and moral instruction Feb. 28 was aimed at presenting the teaching in a positive way, according to coordinator Sandi Le Bel.
“It seems Catholicism has been distilled to a bunch of rules,” said Le Bel, education coordinator for the archdiocesan Respect Life Office. “We wanted to go way beyond that, to show God’s plan is a good thing, a beautiful thing. It’s not to take away from the kids’ happiness. It’s to give them happiness.”
Respect Life sponsored the rally, with help from Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women. They brought eighth-graders from 41 Catholic schools to the Charles Dodge County Center.
It was the first time Chastity Day has gathered a crowd that large. Usually it’s been held in four meetings of 500-600 each. One reason for the change was to add more testimonies, experienced witnesses, into the program, Le Bel said.
After the cranked-up prelude of the pop song “Happy” by Pharrell, the kids were treated to a video montage of extreme sports, with karate students, BMX bikers on mountain paths, skydivers leaping from planes and a surfer inside the curl of a wave. “People Are Awesome!” flashed the final image.
Alvaro Vega, who goes by the stage name of Communion, did two raps and led the listeners in a Jesus cheer, as well as his song “Mother Mary.” Many of the listeners, who had heard him at their schools over the last year, sang along by heart.
‘GOD IS ALSO FUN’
During a break, Chastity Day assistants threw giveaways into the audience, including pro-life T-shirts and wristbands. Gerard John, youth minister at St. Bartholomew in Miramar, led the crowd in a responsive chant: “God is good all the time — all the time God is good!”
“That's just to let you know that God is also fun,” John said.
Even the fun ‘n’ games had a message, though. Vega, a parishioner of St. Bonaventure in Davie, told how he tried to make it as a secular rapper, then left the business when he gave his life to Jesus. “It’s always important to put God first in your life,” he said.
Asked later why he didn’t mention chastity, the topic of the day, Vega said the commitment comes first. “Chastity without Jesus Christ is just will power. He gives us the grace to live in purity.”
John likewise got serious, playing videos dealing with teenage problems: the fear of not being attractive, the pull to fit in by drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. John said he works for a 92-bed adult drug treatment center — “and it’s full every day.”
“We are caught between the voice of the world and the voice of truth,” he continued. “Purity, chastity, is self-control. God didn’t promise it would be easy. But he promised that he would always be with you.”
Mari Pablo, campus minister at St. Brendan High School in Miami, highlighted the model of men and women as different but equal, a model set out by St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body.
Pablo got laughs in saying women can think of several things at once, while men can somehow think of nothing. More laughs greeted her report that men say about 7,000 words per day, but women can speak 20,000.
“Yes, those are stereotypes,” she acknowledged. “But it’s good to know we are different and complementary.”
THEN THEY SCREAMED
She criticized modern sexuality as shallow, centered more on self than relationships. “You are a gift. You have a purpose. You were created for more. Please don’t settle.”
If the music and videos were the carrot, radiologist Grazie Christie wielded the stick: the sexually transmitted diseases that stalk those who indulge in casual sex.
The students cringed at a chart that showed South Florida has among the highest rates for HIV infection. They gasped at a picture of an open mouth laced with gonorrhea. And they screamed at a photo of welts on the lips of a herpes patient.
“That's nothing compared to how it looks on the genital area,” Dr. Christie said.
The girls screamed again a bit later — with delight — as Gus De La Fe took a knee before Caitlin, his wife, to show how he proposed to her seven months ago. They told how their relationship grew: first an attraction in eighth grade, then friendship, then romance, then marriage last July. They also decided early on a family — she's already pregnant.
There's even chastity during marriage, said the De La Fes, who are lay ministers at St. Mark Church in Southwest Ranches. “We can channel our desires and love in more ways than one,” Gus said. “We don’t lust or use each other. We give ourselves faithfully and truly.”
Caitlin added encouragement for listeners who have already had sex. “It’s never too late. You can go to confession and have a clean slate, and start all over.”
During interviews afterward, some students showed that the rally wasn't just jokes and videos for them. They dialed into the messages.
Johan Duran of St. Jerome School, Fort Lauderdale, was impressed that the speakers “interacted with us in a lot of activities. And they shared with us how much they cared about it.”
“Before, I thought [chastity] was just about not having sex,” said Stephanie Gimenez of St. Bonaventure School “Now I see that it goes deeper.”
Nicholas Forte of Immaculate Conception School, Hialeah, was impressed by the De La Fes’ testimony, and how their love grew over the years. “It showed the importance of a relationship — what it means and how to maintain it.”
As Chastity Day wound down, host Natalie Chaise told of the commitment cards en route to the schools. She asked the teens to pray about the decision for chastity, then sign the cards when they were ready. “Hold on to the card, and hold on to your chastity,” she said.
How to measure success? That comes from the response cards filled out by teachers and students, said Le Bel, the rally coordinator. She said the response rate hovers around 20 percent each year.
Comments from past years have been largely positive. Among them: “It helped me see chastity and its importance”; and “I think that every student should be exposed to this talk. You also bring me closer to God.”
Remarked Le Bel: “We can't believe it — year after year, these young teens come away with a new outlook on themselves and God and sexuality. It’s proof for us that the Holy Spirit is doing his work.”