Professional soccer player Luke Vercollone speaks to teens at the regional “Catch the Spirit” youth rally held March 28 at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood. Pilot photo/ Sarah M. Barrett
WESTWOOD -- Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley joined professional soccer player Luke Vercollone in inspiring teens to “Catch the Spirit” at the first-ever regional youth rally.
Over 160 high school students from the Westwood/Norwood area attended the “Catch the Spirit Catholic Youth Rally” at Xaverian Brothers High School March 28
The rally was sponsored by area parishes and Catholic schools.
The rally kicked off with an opening address by Cardinal O’Malley and Vercollone’s keynote speech. The pair’s message was consistent with the rally’s theme -- a passage from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy -- stressing the importance of bearing witness to the Catholic faith and the virtues of sacrifice: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power, love, and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Cardinal O’Malley opened with remarks defining “discipleship” as having the courage to live the Catholic faith in the face of obstacles and persecution.
“Being Jesus’ friend, follower and disciple is never easy,” he said, recalling that, historically, the Church has been persecuted for its teachings on the Trinity, Jesus Christ and the Eucharist.
“But in today’s world, the enemies of the Church persecute us for what we teach about the dignity and the sacredness of human life and the human person, family and marriage,” said the cardinal.
“We do not need Catholics in the witness protection program,” he said. “We need people who are out there announcing with their lives and with their goodness that they are Jesus’ followers.”
Following a musical intercession by Jon Niven, a Xaverian Brothers alumnus and songwriter, Vercollone took the stage.
In his address, Vercollone related the obstacles and sacrifices implicit in pursuing a career as a professional athlete to those experienced along every Catholic’s spiritual journey.
“When I was seeking the goal of becoming a professional athlete in college, I wasn’t just saying no to staying up late, no to eating unhealthily, no to drugs and alcohol and no to skipping class. I wasn’t just saying no to them; I was saying yes to something greater,” he said.
Vercollone drew parallels between his path into the MLS and the careers of Tom Brady, Michael Jordan and Nadia Comaneci -- all of whom succeeded despite seemingly unconquerable odds and the discouragement of others. He explained that these athletes ultimately overcame their obstacles and were successful in reaching their goals through the virtues of hard work and perseverance.
“That is what our Christian identity is -- making that choice each and every day, even when it’s not convenient and even when it is difficult sometimes,” he said.
The day-long rally concluded with small workshops and Mass celebrated by Father Matt Williams of the Office for the New Evangelization of Youth and Young Adults, as well as a dinner and social hour featuring student bands.
The 15 faith-based workshops offered addressed a variety of Catholic social teaching issues including: “Does God Want Me to be Rich and Successful?,” “Sex, Dating and Faith,” “Faithful Citizenship: Stem Cell Research” and “Taking Christ to College.”
Tim Szczebak and his girlfriend Cara Dooley, sophomores from Xaverian and Ursuline, attended the “Sex, Dating and Faith” workshop together. Szczebak described it as “a very comfortable environment” for the discussion on the meaning of sex and the world of dating, love and the gift of marriage.
Reflecting on the day’s activities, Szczebak said it was “cool” to see Cardinal O’Malley speak and called Vercollone’s address “inspiring.”
“I thought it was really fun,” he said. “It was nice to go to an actual rally, because they don’t have a lot around here.”
Xaverian students, brothers Sean and Patrick Gunning attended the rally together along with friends.
Despite the sparse turnout, Sean said he enjoyed the event -- his first Catholic youth rally -- citing Niven’s performance as a highlight.
“I’m hoping they’ll do it again,” he said. “It was definitely successful.”