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Idaho Catholic Youth Conference

The following story appeared in the March 25 Idaho Catholic Register.

Adoration is always a highlight at ICYC. Father Camilo García of St. Nicholas Parish in Rupert leads the procession with the monstrance. (ICR photos/Vero Gutiérrez)

By Gene Fadness


NAMPA – During a time when identity is a hot topic, especially among young people, speakers at the recent Idaho Catholic Youth Conference emphasized over and again the power of identity in Christ. Even though speakers do not coordinate their remarks, the Christian worldview that our identity as men and women created in the image of God came up time and again during the three-day event at the Idaho Center in Nampa.

Growing up on the tiny central Mediterranean island of Malta, Rob Galea took full advantage of the country’s liberalized drinking laws that allowed 16-year-olds to drink. “And if you are 14 and you look 16, they will let you drink and into nightclubs,” he said of the heavily Catholic country where we “love our partying and love our religion.”

Galea found that drinking gave him confidence to talk to girls. The drinking led to smoking and then to pills and then to “steal stuff to get another high.”

“I wanted to be accepted more than I wanted to be true to myself, even though it was robbing me of my joy,” Father Galea told about 1,400 young people gathered at ICYC.

Members of the “God Squad” (this year from the West Central Deanery) lead the 1,400 attendees in worship and praise. (ICR photos/Vero Gutiérrez)

Galea became depressed, refusing to leave his room for six weeks. Thanks to his parents’ prayers and the invitation from a friend to come to youth group, “I decided I was either going to end my life or live my life,” he said. Initially he viewed the youth group members as a “group of freaks,” he said, “but they were so joyful, and I wanted that peace. ” Told that God wanted a relationship with him, Galea found a new identity in Christ that displaced the need to be accepted by others. “At the foot of the cross, Jesus takes your mess and turns it into a message,” he said.

Galea went on to become a priest, a singer and a songwriter and author of “Breakthrough: A Journey from Desperation to Hope.” Father Galea, who interspersed his story with song, credits his parents for the change in his life. “I stand here today because of the prayers of my mother and dad who never gave up on me.”

Anyone attending ICYC is destined to hear plenty of inspirational praise music. Above left is Father Rob Galea who composes his own music. (ICR photos/Vero Gutiérrez)

He still suffers from depression, he told the teens. “There are days where I can’t get out of bed and weeks when I cannot function, but because of the prayers of my mom, I have joy through my depression and pain. Joy is not a happiness or a feeling of elation. Joy is knowing that you are not alone and God is with you.”

Identity in Christ, rather than in self or in approval from others, was a recurring theme from all the speakers during the March 11-13 conference, the first ICYC in three years, the last two cancelled due to the pandemic.

Identity in Christ also was a theme of Bishop Peter Christensen, both in his opening remarks and during a Sunday morning Mass. He referred to the song, “You Say,” by Christian contemporary artist Lauren Daigle, a song he listens to daily:

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough

Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?

Remind me once again just who I am because I need to know

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing You say I am strong when I think I am weak And you say I am held when I am falling short And when I don’t belong, You say I am Yours

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me

In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

“We live in a time when so many among us want to be noticed, but not known. ‘Look at me, notice me, but don’t know me,’ ” the Bishop said. So many young people “strive for attention to feel like they belong, but accept the lie that are not good enough,” he said. “Where do we look for our identity? I would rather be known than noticed.”

Listening to the conversion stories of Father Galea and Joe Melendrez, the emcee for the weekend, reminded the Bishop of his conversion.

Even though he had promised God when he was 10 that he would become a priest, the Bishop fell away from the practice of his faith during his late teens and early 20s. “High school was not easy and college was worse,” he said. “My life was awful and I was beginning to become very depressed.” He recalls the exact evening – April 15, 1975 – when he said he asked the Lord for His help. “I knew my prayers were answered. I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ and He heard my longings for Him. My life changed drastically, so much so that within two years I entered a seminary to become a priest,” he said. “The thread of God’s love is so powerful, so life-changing, that we are able to renew our true identity in Christ.”

The Bishop referred to the Gospel for the day, the Transfiguration from Luke 9:28-36. Jesus took the disciples to the top of a mountain: “a view that will give clarity and proper perspective, kind of like ICYC,” he said. The disciples at the Transfiguration – Peter, James and John – had been chosen to experience “a new view” for their lives, he said. The disciples fell asleep but, “Jesus awoke them into a new reality. They soon saw a deeper meaning for their lives.” The voice from heaven declaring the glorified Jesus to be the beloved son and the instruction from God to “listen to Him,” is an admonition to us all to open our eyes and ears to see “something new unfolding; to see the thread, the theme of God’s plan for humanity and for your life. It’s all connected,” the Bishop said. “It makes sense to be ‘woke’ to Christ, to listen to Him because in Him you receive your true identity, for He created you.”

Emily Wilson, another speaker, determined in her teen years that she would live out her faith, even though she was ridiculed for doing so. While a student at Arizona State, she decided she would attend daily Mass. “The hardest thing about going to Mass was that it was in the center of campus. Everybody knew I was going in there to pray,” she said. “What others say about me doesn’t matter, what God says about me matters.” That daily Mass, often attended by only about 12 students on the 65,000-student campus “saved my life,” she said.

In addition to attending daily Mass, she found the Newman Center on cam-pus and sought out the FOCUS missionaries. “Over and over again, I tried to choose the road of faith. I chose Jesus over and again and it changed the course of my life.” Strongly influenced by St. John Paul II’s encyclical “On the Dignity of Women,” Wilson felt prompted by the Lord to begin making YouTube videos, which have since become a cornerstone of her ministry. Her YouTube channel now has about 125,000 followers.

She encouraged the young people to go to God to define femininity and masculinity rather than adopt the world’s definition. “The world wants us to measure femininity from the exterior; how you look and dress,” she said. On the contrary, “Femininity flows from the interior of who you are as a woman,” she said, particularly “the specific part of our heart that loves to nurture.”

“Mother Teresa never got a pedicure a day in her life and wore the same clothes every day. Sisters get to wear their wedding gown every day,” she said. “Mother Teresa expressed her femininity by the way she loved people and cared for people.”

Joe Melendrez, emcee, leads 1,400 teens with his trademark Christian hip-hop during the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference last weekend in Nampa. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Likewise, Oscar Rivera told the young men that masculinity is not machismo. “We are called as men to protect our sisters, our families,” he said. “If we want to be any type of man, we model the manhood of Jesus Christ.”

Rivera said it was important for men to form community with other men to whom they can be vulnerable and accountable. “The world has told you to stop being emotional, that that is for women and we are to pent it up inside,” but that’s an incorrect view, he said. “If you want to build up a generation of true warriors, then start lifting each other up. Look out for one another,” he said.

He brought to the stage a young Anglo man in his cowboy hat and Wrangler jeans and a young Hispanic man and emphasized the unity and commonality we have as Christians, decrying the divisions of the last two years. “I’m tired of being divided. First I’m Catholic, then I’m Latino,” he said.

Bishop Liam Cary of the Diocese of Baker, Ore., celebrated the Saturday morning Mass at the three-day event. Music was provided by the Alex Street Band, which is based in the Diocese of Boise.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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