While adult Catholics all over the Philadelphia area and beyond are preparing for the historic World Meeting of Families (WMOF), there will also be a special way for children and young adults to participate in the event.
The World Meeting’s youth congress occurs simultaneously with the adult congress, taking place Sept. 22-25 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The youth component is accessible to all young people from ages 6 to 17 who are registered to attend with their families.
Interactive programs at the congress encourage creating, playing, listening and serving in order to embrace the mission of love. The programs are integrated into the World Meeting’s theme and catechesis, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”
More than two dozen activities and events are planned for youths at the World Meeting.
“Any time that young people are able to spend time together is usually a wonderful experience for them, so when you think about them having time to meet, interact and do things with young people from around the world from different cultures and backgrounds, that brings everything to the next level,” said Maria Richardson, youth congress director.
“That community is just amazing. When you add a great lineup of activities, speakers and entertainment to the community experience, you can’t miss. We are planning an amazing program and a great show for them.”
In addition to speakers and entertainment, three outreach opportunities are planned. The World Mission Rosary, which invites young people to learn what it takes to be a missionary, calls for participants to make two rosaries: one for them and one that will be sent to children in need all around the world.
The second outreach activity is “Fill a Bag, Fill a Heart,” and serves those in need in the Philadelphia region. Bags will be filled with toiletries and similar items by youth congress attendees to benefit homless people, the elderly and other children.
The third outreach initiative, “Helping Hands,” partners with Catholic Relief Services to alleviate world hunger. Youths will package bags of rice, soy, dehydrated vegetables and vitamin supplements to send to people facing malnutrition in West Africa.
In addition, “Praying with Paint” is an opportunity for children to paint watercolor images designed by a local art teacher who will instruct young people how to paint the designed pictures, one stroke at a time. “These portraits will inspire faith, family, and love,” Richardson said.
“I’m really excited about the take-home time capsule,” she said, describing how children receive a white plastic container that they can decorate and include with a letter to themselves and their favorite saint to put in their capsule. They can take it home, bury it, then dig it up in 25 years.
“This is a saved memory,” Richardson said, “it will remind the children of a wonderful time, and they will remember the experience.”
The “Sacramental Scavenger Hunt” will lead youth on adventures throughout the convention hall. With fun clues and a map, they will be able to find items such as holy water, blessed salt, scapulars, medals, prayer cards, rosaries and more. This activity will teach them what each sacrament is about.
Children will also be invited to meet the United States’ founding fathers in costumes, and watch live presentations and debates from actors.
For all ages, there is an activity called “All Saints Dress Up” where children can collect cards of favorite saints with a short life story on the back. Then, they can dress in costume and be photographed as the saint they hope to be more like.
“Outside of the Youth Congress, family activities in the convention center will be happening throughout the congress,” Richardson said. “The Youth Café is a cool thing that I’m excited about for high-schoolers. We are going to have speakers and musicians that are really going to be able to address real-life problems and help teens navigate through the issues of life.”
Steve Angrisano, the master of ceremonies for the youth congress, will offer talks on the main stage about prayer praise and worship.
“There will be a different form of prayer every day, which will help young people understand the different ways to pray,” Richardson said. “We are working with the Catholic Community Choir and they will be doing the opening and closing ceremonies for the youth congress.”
One unique visual exhibit, “Mother of the World,” will allow youths to see the many global images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. An artist will create photographs of Mary from different places around the world. Her face is the same in every photograph but is presented differently according to different cultures.
“We wanted young people to understand that Mary the mother of God is also the mother of the world and has appeared to people around the world. She appears to people in their native dress, but still is the mother of God. There are going to be very special, modern photos. So far there are four, but we are hoping to do more,” Richardson said.
Other activities include shooting basketballs with seminarians; a trivia quest to test knowledge of the Bible and the Catholic Church; bowling with the bishops and playing Wii interactive video games; an interactive theater of Gospel stories; St. Francis of Assisi coloring books; creating a pope puppet; watching a priest illustrate the teachings of the Church using household items, fun experiments and his own self-built devices; and an imagination playground where children can build creations out of huge blocks.