In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus implored his disciples to stay awake while he prayed, but they inevitably fell asleep.

To prepare for Holy Week, nearly 50 young adults gave up some of their sleep by rising in the pre-dawn hours on Saturday, April 1 to participate in the Sonrise Festival held outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown. This unique event was a collaboration between the archdiocesan Office for Ministry with Young Adults, Peak Encounter Ministries, and the shrine’s young adult ministry group.

The purpose of the event was to create “a triduum experience of the death and resurrection and the rising of Jesus the Saturday before Holy Week begins and to have a deeper experience of Holy Week,” said Matt Davis, director of the Office for Ministry with Young Adults. “We thought the novelty of it being outdoors could help people have a powerful faith experience.”

The festival included outdoor Stations of the Cross in the dark, small group discussions around small bonfires, and adoration.

(Photo: Roshan Philip)

The goal, Davis said, was to “journey from darkness into light by reflecting on the crucifixion of Jesus and experiencing adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at sunrise which is symbolic of preparing for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter.”

While the weather forecast was not favorable for that morning, the young adults were undeterred by the drizzling rain and spent approximately two hours outside praying and reflecting on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“I thought it was a great way to start the Holy Week and to spend time with God and spend time with other people in the young adult community,” said Sara Howell, a core team member of the shrine’s Young Adult Ministry group.

“It was a very special time because it allowed me to think about God in a special way and to think about what Jesus did and to spend time with Him.”

Father Stephen DeLacy, Vicar for Faith Formation with Youth and Young Adults for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, noted the sacrifice the young adults had to make to participate in the Sonrise Festival.

“Young adults crave doing something great for the church, something hard for the church,” Father DeLacy said. “This event expressed that it’s not the most casual thing to get together at 4:00 in the morning. There’s a little sacrifice involved with that.”

Father Stephen DeLacy (center) joins young adults ahead of the Sonrise Festival held outside the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown. (Photo: Roshan Philip)

(Photo: Roshan Philip)

The festival also highlighted the importance of being part of a faith community.

“We all had this commitment to each other, and that pushed us to do something that most of us probably would not have done on our own,” said Father DeLacy. “That’s what a dynamic church community looks like.”

“There is something very powerful about the nature of community, and our church needs to cultivate as much community as possible. I can honestly say that on my own I would not have shown up at the Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine at 4:30 in the morning to pray the Stations of the Cross.”

The setting for the Sonrise Festival was particularly meaningful for Father DeLacy.

“Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine is one of the highest points in the Doylestown area so we were able to see the skyline of the city of Philadelphia,” he said. I felt like our prayer during that time was blessing and blanketing the whole Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which was so very powerful.”

Archbishop Pérez joined the young adults at the shrine and shared a reflection on the importance of the Eucharist and how God is calling them to have a deeper experience of the Eucharist every time Mass is celebrated.

“We’re super excited to do it again, and I would encourage other young adults to join us next year,” Howell said.

“It will be especially beautiful to do it when it’s not cloudy, so we could really see that sunrise.”

Archbishop Pérez (center) and the young adults take a group photo at the shrine. The Archbishop joined participants for small group discussions and breakfast. (Photo: Roshan Philip)