By Chris Miller
Western Catholic Reporter
Danger may involve peril, adventure or taking risks, explained author Frank Mercadante, featured speaker at the annual archdiocesan youth rally.
“Danger is so much like a magnet in many ways. Danger can either draw us in or it can push us apart,” said Mercadante.
“When we watch extreme sports, the danger can draw us in. But when we watch senseless acts of violence or terrorism, those are dangers that actually push us away.”
Those different approaches to danger also apply to Catholics and their behaviours, he said, with many people demonstrating their faith in ways that are either positive or negative, compelling or repelling.
Parker Rhodes, from St. Maria Goretti School, had a blast at least year’s youth rally, so he decided to come out again because more of his friends would be there.
“Live your Catholic faith dangerously,” said Parker, reiterating the central message of the speaker.
Music, meals, Mass, prayer, games, small group discussions, a dance and four talks by Mercadante highlighted the Oct. 13 youth rally.
Held at Archbishop O’Leary High School, more than 300 youth, in Grades 7 to 12, were registered. Many of them were from outside of the archdiocese, traveling from as far as Okotoks, Airdrie, Cold Lake and Hinton.
Mercadante is married and a father of six adult children. He served 10 years as director of youth ministry near Chicago, at St. John Neumann in St. Charles, Ill., which was recognized as one of the most successful Catholic youth ministries in the United States.
During his tenure, he grew the program from 10 youth and two adult leaders to more than 75 adult leaders and 500 young people.
Since 1991 he has served as the executive director of Cultivation Ministries. He has designed and written extensive youth ministry training planning manuals used to help train and equip student leaders and adult youth workers internationally.
He is an author of four books on the subject of ministering to teens. One of his books, Positively Dangerous, was the theme of this year’s youth rally.
“If we’re positively dangerous, we’re living in such a vibrant, real, alive way that others are at risk of catching it, and we compel them to explore our faith,” said Mercadante.
“Or, are we living in a negatively dangerous way, where we are actually repelling people from the faith? If we live with hypocrisy or apathy, people can see this and they’re not interested.”
Apathy and a lack of enthusiasm for the Catholic faith, is an obstacle to living positively dangerous. It’s what Mercadante referred to as boring, humdrum, “cottage cheese Catholicism.”
Like many youth today, he dropped out of the Church in high school because there was no life.
Later however, he met other young people who had genuine relationships with Jesus. These people spoke about Jesus as though they had just shared lunch with him earlier that day. He referred to them as connected, intimate, “jalapeno Catholics.” They brought a contagious excitement to being Catholic.
“Our lives are broadcasting something to the people around us every day and in everything we do. We are going to have an influence on people in the way we live our faith.
“The substance of our lives has implications, substance being how we live, what we say, and our attitudes,” said Mercadante.
He cautioned that hypocrisy is yet another factor to repelling people from Christianity. Those are the Christians who say one thing, but whose lives and actions say something else. Their faith life is all an act, just fakery.
To live positively dangerous, his advice is to invest in a true relationship with God. He suggested six disciplines to assist young people in loving God: solitude, silence, prayer, reading the Scriptures, sacraments and community.
“Solitude is important because when we spend time alone with God, we come to realize that he loves us in spite of our sins and our messiness. When we experience love from God, we are able to show love for others. Solitude produces depth, and it produces compassion,” said Mercadante.
Silence is about getting away from the noise of the world, so that one can discern God’s voice. Prayer helps one develop a friendship with God.
“These are all just simple tools that we can use in our daily lives to help us grow in our love for God,” he said.
Jacob McLarney, from J.H. Picard School in Edmonton, said he saw a poster at school about the rally “and thought it would be interesting. I talked to a teacher, and got signed up right away.”
After hearing the lively songs performed by the youth band, Seven Daze, and listening to the speaker, his expectations were met. Mercadante’s message resonated with him.
Siana Martin and Kiyana John are Grade 7 students from Dr. Brosseau School in Bonnyville.
“I’ve gone to youth rallies before, and they are really fun. I really enjoy talking to God and being close to God, so that’s one of the reasons I came here,” said Siana.
“I really enjoyed the speaker. I thought he was really funny, and lots of the things he was saying connected to my family and me.”
Kiyana enjoyed the speaker as well, especially the humorous videos that he showed and the examples he used to illustrate his main points.
“The main message I got is to love God, which is the first commandment,” said Kiyana.
Siana added, “A strong message I got from him is that you should spread your faith to everyone, and that you always spread it positively, never negatively.”