PROVIDENCE - More than 240 youth and adult leaders filled the lower level of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on Dec. 1 for the 35th annual diocesan Youth Congress.
The event, following the national theme “Discover Jesus Christ, the Way,” included prayer, icebreakers, entertainment and small workshops catered toward high school students.
This year’s congress, organized by the Office of Comprehensive Youth Ministry, featured musical guest Jesse Manibusan, winner of the 2003 Unity Award. Throughout the previous week, Manibusan visited local diocesan parishes as part of Youth Mission Week 2007.
Manibusan is no stranger to the Diocese of Providence. He has visited several times, including last year for the first mission week. Returning this year, according to Jesse, was an added bonus for his ministry. “I’ve made connections with people I met last year,” he said. “There was a spark. There was real excitement from them.”
Louise Dussault, director of the Office of Comprehensive Youth Ministry, was happy to have Jesse back in the state. “Jesse’s an energizer,” she said. “He helps young people see that faith can be exciting and fun. He’s able to connect with them and share that life isn’t always perfect.”
When asked why he pursued ministry as his career, Manibusan responded, “The first answer is because I’m baptized.” He also admitted that his passion for ministry is part of who he is and how he was raised. “I was born into a Catholic family,” he said. “I grew up with music and drama.... It was a natural progression.”
“Working with young people, that’s not hard,” added Manibusan. “They have this original openness. They pull me out of my own fear.
They are so encouraging to me. They’ve taught me how to minister because they reveal themselves to me.”
The youth congress began with an hour workshop with Manibusan. Clad in his trademark yellow smiley-faced tee-shirt and with guitar in hand, Manibusan led participants in song and prayer. His style of ministry involved light-hearted songs, anecdotes and an openness about himself.
Within minutes after climbing up on stage, Manibusan had the crowd waving their hands in the air and singing. He engaged participants in silly games of “Simon Says” and never failed to mention how much he loves dough boys. “It’s a great equalizer to be a fool for Christ,” said Manibusan, as he invited members of the audience on stage to perform hand motions to his songs. “When you follow Jesus all the cool points are out the window. All there is is real,” he added.
Manibusan intermingled his humor with more serious topics. He did not shy away from sharing his own sadness and fears with the crowd. The performer talked about being lonely when he leaves to go out on the road. “I think the toughest is always leaving my family,” he said. Manibusan proudly mentioned his wife Jody and his two daughters, who are now ages 18 and 20.
“The greatest challenge is practicing what I preach. Being healthy, praying constantly, being real, telling the truth, and asking for help,” he said. “Not many people know that I suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. I was diagnosed many years ago.” After revealing the truth about his chemical imbalances to the crowd, he joked, “I just try to re-balance it with oreo juice.”
Manibusan’s honesty on stage encouraged participants. Ellen MacDonald, 13, of Jesus Savior Parish, Newport was excited to see the talented musician back in Rhode Island. “He’s funny. He’s open and stuff. He’s willing to share that he had depression.”
“He’s amazing. He shows us how we can be real,” said Angela Degaitas, 16, a member of St. Patrick Parish, Providence. “You want to listen to him,” she added. For Degaitas, a relationship with Christ is key. “I find that my faith is the biggest thing that keeps me going. I’ve known what life is like when you lose it. It’s so much better when you have it back,” she said.
Johnny Lamanna, 18, of St. Rocco Parish, Johnston appreciated that Jesse weaves music into his ministry. “I’m a musician too. It’s (music) something everyone can relate to,” he said.
Youth members of the Diocesan Leadership Team served as hospitality and masters of ceremony, and representatives from the three diocesan youth centers helped facilitate prayers and icebreakers. Priests and adults planned small workshops on topics including relationships, living out one’s faith and getting involved in community service.
“On a good day, four percent of adults in the church work with youth,” said Manibusan. “A great thing about this diocese is the adults.... They are the ones that are behind the scenes. They are the foundation.”
One of these adults, Alison Amodie, 20, is a member of the Acts 29 Youth Ministry Leadership Program. She’s a parishioner at St. Paul Parish, Cranston and helps to lead the youth group at Rejoice in Hope Youth Center in that city. “I hope to share some of what I have with them,” she said. “Kids are so different. We have so much fun. It’s great to learn about them and about their faith.”
Another adult leader, Pat Kane, coordinated this year’s congress. Kane is also director of Rejoice in Hope Youth Center and Emmaus Youth Center in Riverside. She has a great passion for the work she does. “It’s too important not too,” she said.
Some of the youth Kane works with organized the opening prayer service. “It’s encouraging to see,” she said. “I don’t think people see youth in a positive light sometimes. It is encouraging to see young people get involved in their faith.”
To learn more about Manibusan, you can visit his Web site at http://www.jessemanibusan.com. Find out more about diocesan youth ministry programs at http://www.ymcyoprov.org.