Teens experience the real presence of Christ at Youth 2000 retreat [Photo Gallery]

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More than 300 teens and adults representing seven parishes came together for the Youth 2000 retreat Feb. 24-26, at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin. Throughout the weekend, attendees learned about Jesus and his real presence in the Eucharist, heard testimonies, participated in Mass and adoration, had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, and more. Grace Sides of St. Philip, Layla Berlucchi of the Church of the Nativity in Thompson’s Station, Eiley Bruce of St. Philip, and Lachlyn Morel of St. Philip, clap along to the music. Photos by Katie Peterson

Three hundred and twenty teens and adults from across the Diocese of Nashville spent a weekend experiencing Christ in the Eucharist at the Youth 2000 retreat Feb. 24-26, at St. Philip the Apostle Church in Franklin.

Led by the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, the teens prayed the rosary together, heard talks about the Eucharist, reconciliation, and Mary, had the opportunity to ask questions, attended adoration, and more.

“It all culminates in a personal encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist,” said Michaela Miller, director of faith formation for youth and young adults at St. Philip. “They’ll hear the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. Then, Jesus (through his presence in the Eucharist exposed in the monstrance) will process around the room and come to them individually. They’ll have a chance to touch Jesus’ cloak and offer him whatever trials and worries they might have in their life.

“Through it, I hope they gain a love for the Eucharist and that their hearts are transformed and opened to growing deeper in their faith,” she said. “Ultimately, I hope they know they can come to Jesus with anything no matter how crazy the world is, and that they are just loved, plain and simple.”

Youth 2000 was founded in 1990 by a young Englishman. Anne Brawley attended that first retreat in Europe, having been asked by the young man to help.

The young man “became deeply involved with Our Lady in prayer, and he had a feeling that in praying to her, she would help him find out what he wanted to do in life,” Brawley explained. “He realized at that point, he was young and that the young people were really thirsting for religion and were looking for God.

“So, he brought a lot of young people to a retreat, and it was Eucharistic centered,” she said. “When I saw the reaction of the young people” at the first retreat she helped at “in my heart, I felt like it was they who were not receiving the knowledge and the love of the Eucharist. If they knew the Eucharist and really understood it, it would change their lives.”

With that in mind, she asked the young man if he would help her organize a retreat in the United States, which he did, and the first Youth 2000 Retreat in the United States was held in Dallas in 1992.

“It was based on this same type of spirituality, placing the Eucharist at the center and having talks about the Eucharist and Our Lady,” Brawley explained.  “The young man’s thought, and mine, was that Our Lady was saying, ‘If you bring your young people to me, I will bring them to my Son.’”

That first retreat in the United States attracted about 750 youth and, within less than a year, other parishes around the world wanted to bring the same retreat near them. As of 2023, several hundred retreats have been held across the United States and in 21 countries.

“It’s been amazing to see the young people respond,” Brawley said. “Often, they come on Friday night not usually wanting to be there. … But then by Sunday, they don’t want to leave because it is really an eye-opening experience for them to learn about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and about his love and mercy.

“That’s really our goal for the whole thing,” she said. 

The Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal have always been part of the retreat, too. The Franciscans of the Renewal, “they can really relate to the young people because many of them have led lives that were very similar to theirs and found God, and they dedicated their lives to helping other young people,” Brawley said. “I’ve heard over and over again years later from these young people how much of a tremendous impact Youth 2000 made on their lives.”

Miller is one of those youth that was impacted, having attended Youth 2000 in 1998 as an eighth-grade student when it was held in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky.

“Youth 2000 is the reason I believe in the real presence. I had always said I believed, but that was when it was solidified for me,” said Miller. “I hope it’s the same for these youth here this weekend.”

The weekend included youth who were first timers on the retreat and those who were experiencing it again, having been so touched the first time.

For 16-year-old Marlene Cruz, who is a parishioner of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fayetteville, it was her first experience with Youth 2000, having heard about it from friends.

“I’ve just learned overall to dive even deeper into my faith,” Cruz said of the experience. “The talks that we’ve heard have helped me grow even more within myself and strive to be better with my family, be more faithful with friends, and to share that faith with more people.”

It was that deeper connection to faith that inspired 15-year-old Jonathan Covarrubias, a parishioner of St. Philip, and 15-year-old Gloria Licea, a parishioner of St. William Church in Shelbyville, to return having attended the retreat in 2022.

“Last year, it really opened me up to be closer to God and gave me a different perspective from what I’ve experienced in my life,” Covarrubias said. “I just felt like I needed to come again. Getting to experience God, just me and Him, in a good environment and a good atmosphere, I just knew I wanted to feel that again.”

Youth 2000 has taught him, “to keep on trusting God and not be scared to show Him off,” Covarrubias continued. “I don’t really know much about my faith, but this has helped me a lot to learn about my religion, learn about my faith, and to understand it more fully.”

Licea had similar thoughts. 

“The reason why I went to Youth 2000 again was because my first experience was amazing and beautiful,” Licea said. “When I first found out about Youth 2000 this year, my friends told me … not to go … but something in my heart was calling me to go again. 

“It was like a desire to go and find my truth about my faith and God. I believe God wanted me there so I could experience more about him and show me how much my faith has grown since my first retreat,” she said. “I thank the Lord that he let me experience this retreat again and on another level.

“I also thank my youth group leader Jorge (Amaro) for showing and sharing with me what having faith can do to you and for starting St. William’s Youth Group.” 

Throughout the retreat, Mass was also a key part of the experience, with the teens attending each of the three days. Saturday’s Mass was celebrated by Bishop J. Mark Spalding. During that Mass, the teens heard the story of the calling of Levi, the tax collector, better known as Matthew.

As he began his homily, Bishop Spalding noted Caravaggio’s painting “The Calling of Saint Matthew.”

“He grasps that moment that we just heard about in the Gospel. In it, he uses light to emphasize what’s happening there because you don’t really see Jesus’ face that well. What you do see is his finger, and he’s pointing to Matthew and Matthew is at his table collecting the taxes,” Bishop Spalding explained. “And you see Matthew looking up in this kind of wonderment and shock that the Lord would want to choose him.”

Through this retreat, “the same Lord that pointed at Matthew now points at each one of you and says, ‘Come, follow me’ and hopefully in this experience you’ve been able to strengthen yourself in your love of Jesus Christ and are willing to say ‘yes’ to following him in your words, in your deeds, and with all your life,” he said. “The finger of Jesus Christ is pointing to each and every one of you, and my prayer throughout this Mass will be that you respond just like Matthew.

“He got up and he followed the Lord,” the bishop concluded. “He lived a life of sacrifice, and he even died for the name of Jesus. But his life was lived wonderfully, beautifully in love and hope, and like Jesus was always there for him, Jesus will always be there for you.” 

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