"Mission" Accomplished

"Did you hear me? I said drink more water! You're not drinking enough water!" It was the clarion and relentless call of the conscientious nurses on staff at ByzanTEEN Youth Rally 2004 held at Camp St. Nicholas in Frazier Park, California. At 7,000 feet above sea level in the desert of the Los Padres national forest in southern California, the vigilance of the staff nurses was indeed a gift to the 255 participants of ByzanTEEN Youth Rally 2004. Dangerous as it is mysterious and beautiful, the desert is the place where man has gone to encounter both God and demon. It was where the teenagers of the Byzantine Catholic Church went to encounter the theme of this year's ByzanTEEN Youth Rally: "Mission."

The ByzanTEEN Youth Rally is a function of the lntereparchial Youth Commission which was formed by the Council of Hierarchs specifically to serve youth ministry on a Metropolitan wide level. While the first two ByzanTEEN Youth Rallies were hosted by the Sisters of St. Basil at Mt. St. Macrina in Uniontown, Pa. the Rally is actually designed to move about the Metropolia. At camp St. Nicholas. The eparchy of Van Nuys hosted the first relocation of the ByzanTEEN Youth Rally. Since the majority of the population of Byzantine Catholics in the Metropolia lie in the eastern part of the United States, it was the first experience of a mission eparchy for many of the Rally participants. The one word Rally theme, "Mission," purposely left little indication as to what the Rally was actually going to be about. The Teens would soon learn that "mission" is experienced on many life-changing levels. Mission is a process and place where we go without knowing beforehand everything that may lie ahead. Mission is a journey, a mystery.

The very process of preparing to attend the Rally was in itself part of the "mission." Teens had to work with adults in their respective parishes to develop creative fundraising programs to finance the costly trip westward. Due to the fact that Rally 2004 represented change and the challenge of time, money and distance, the Planning Committee was not overly optimistic about the number of participants for this particular Rally. However, as always the teens rose to the challenge and brought a capacity crowd to the youth camp in the desert.

Once the Teens arrived at Camp St. Nicholas (everyone accounted for and safe) they would really experience "mission" with the somewhat rustic accommodations of Camp St. Nicholas combined with the desert climate and potential for bear and raccoon attacks. Fr. Jack Custer, a member of the faculty at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pa. delivered the opening talk. Fr. Custer took the teens on journey deep into the riches of their own Byzantine Catholic spirituality, its liturgy, saints, calendar and prayer. He invited the teens on "mission" to really live these riches which are absolutely relevant and in fact vital for our times. The Rally workshops were conducted by Sr. Susan Sisko, Catherine Baranko, Fr. Frank Twardzik, Fr. Jack Custer, Marya Tipton and Fr. Thomas Loya. Again the teens were invited on mission to learn and hear in a whole new way the authentic teaching of the Church on the meaning of being human, male female, of vocation and liturgical worship.

As one of the activities during the Rally, the teens were divided into small teams. Each team had to dramatize a segment of the Byzantine spiritual classic, "The Way of the Pilgrim." Being a book largely of introspection, coming up with dramatic skits was a challenge indeed. Again, the teens came through with creativity that at times was simply brilliant. The uproarious laughter and applause from the audience of adult chaperones and clergy could be heard throughout the camp.

Even the times of prayer served as "mission" in themselves. The chapel could accommodate the vast crowd of young people only by having the pews removed and everyone standing. This conveniently provided many of the young people with a more dynamic and authentically Byzantine form of liturgy with processions weaving through the crowd. Standing provided more attention, focus and posture which resulted in some of the most magnificently sung prayer services many of the Rally participants had ever heard.

"Mission," is all about being enroute and arriving somewhere as one type of person and returning as someone transformed. For the 175 teens, 55 adult chaperones and the 15 clergy and religious at Camp St. Nicholas, the challenges, fellowship, prayer and journey of ByzanTEEN Youth Rally 2004 was a "Mission" accomplished.

Rally 2004 Poster Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Kathryn Hratko of Gilbert, Arizona (St. Thomas Parish). She will receive a Rally 2004 fee waiver.

Year One, Issue Two Theme of the Month: Peace from On High

Updated: 4-17-03

It is with deep regret that we announce the death and burial of Fr. John Keblesh after his long and faith-filled battle with cancer. Many of us will remember well Fr. John's courageous and inspiring testimony which he delivered as the concluding talk of ByzanTEEN Rally 2002. In the enthusiastic way in which he embraced life and in the way that his faith triumphed over the fear of death, Fr. John Keblesh left many powerful gifts for so many of us.

May his memory be eternal!

--Darren Jackson

Huddled with five or six other ByzanTEENS around a small blue radio at the back of a sea of thousands of mostly Latin brothers and sisters from around the world, we all listened (with varying degrees of attentiveness) to the words of the Holy Father as they crackled from the speaker. As the Pope continued to give his opening address at the Papal Welcoming Ceremony, something he said had perked my attention:

...God created man and woman in a paradise, Eden, because he wanted them to be happy. Unfortunately, sin spoiled his initial plans. However, God did no resign himself to this defeat. He sent his Son into the world in order to give back to us an even more beautiful idea of heaven. God became man—the Fathers of the Church tell us—so that men and women could become like God. This is the decisive turning point, brought about in human history by the Incarnation. (#2)

Right from his lips came the essence of Eastern Christianity: theosis, the possibility of you and I becoming like God because He first became like us. The door of theosis opens at the Incarnation and allows us “to share in the divine nature of Christ.” (2 Peter 1:4) Theosis is the Gospel understood with Eastern ears. The Pope had come to share with the youth of the Church there at Toronto the universal message of salvation, the message that resounds from East to West and echoes the kerygma, the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles and early disciples. Only a message that draws breath with the two lungs of East and West could bear the name Catholic (“universal” or “all-encompassing), and only John Paul II would do so without hesitation at an even like World Youth Day in Toronto. In his Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen (“Light of the East”), he said of theosis: “This can be summarized in the though already expressed by St. Irenaeus at the end of the second century: ‘God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.’ This theology of becoming divine remains on of the achievements particularly dear to the Eastern Christian thought.” (#6)

From being there and experiencing it firsthand, I have come to understand that World Youth Day is really an icon of the youth of the Church. Hundreds of thousands of young people are attracted to the Holy Father because they know that there must be something to him, something “authentic, even if they do not know what is authentically there. Others yell, scream, and rush to get close to him because they know what he is about and for what he stands. All hear the kerygma just the same. Even if they come only an hour before he arrives, remain at the very outskirts of the crowd, and are only able to see the giant screens and so huddle around a squawking blue box, they still hear our message, our voice, our invitation proclaimed to all those who listen.

Now we must live that icon of the Church. There is really no diplomatic way of putting this, but...ByzanTEENS, get off your butts.

ByzanTEEN Youth Rally 2002
--Julie Hritz

The day after I came home from the youth rally, I picked up my folder with the things I had gotten and looked through it, remembering everything I had experienced at the Rally. I came across the welcome card that had marked my bed and I read the Bible verse that was printed on it: “In Me you will have peace. In the world you will have troubles; but do not be afraid, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) The moment I read that verse I realized that it summed up the most important things I had learned from the Rally—things I had needed to learn for a long time.

Father Frank Twardzik taught me the most important things I learned during the Rally at his workshop. He said to be holy we have to be happy. At first, I was confused because I had always thought that happiness comes by chance. I never knew how wrong I was. Happiness—the true happiness—comes only by trusting and loving God. “In Me you will have peace...” We will not have peace in the superficial things that bring us fleeting happiness. “In the world you will have troubles...” We all feel those troubles, but if we fix our hearts on Jesus, we will find joy, even in our suffering. (Never before would these words have left my mouth!)

Father Frank also said that we have to give God permission to work in our lives. Before the Rally, I didn’t even realize that I was closing out God when I was sad or depressed, but it all made sense when I realized that when I was happy I felt like I was so close to God and had a strong faith. However, when things were bad it all disappeared. I did not have the strength to keep the doors of my heart open to God when I needed Him most.

Since then, I have found that it does not take that much effort to let God’s grace flow into me. I only have to ask. I found the way in prayer, and more peace and happiness that I have never found before. As St. Therese wrote, “There are things the heart feels but which the tongue and even the mind cannot express.” I understand her writings completely as I try to write down these words!

To finish up the verse from John, “...but do not be afraid, for I have conquered the world.” Be not afraid, the theme of the Rally, means that through trust I have found in God I can always have peace and happiness if only I look to Him.

I want to thank all the sisters who were praying for us at the Youth Rally. It means so much to me to know that someone is praying for me, and I know that the graces I received at the Rally were a result of your prayers.

To all ByzanTEENS:

Glory to Jesus Christ! Sister Celeste Strohmeyer and I have collaborated with teens and priests to come up with this newsletter just for you! We all hope that this newsletter is informative to all Byzantines, teens and adults alike, and that you can come to read this newsletter as a source of inspiration, too. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to e-mail me at my address: I hope that we can feature your articles and photographs as well as ours in the near future. Until then, peace out!

The Editor,
Sarah M. Cooley

From Our Priests
--Fr. John Custer

Your favorite editor and mine (Sarah!) asked me to write something on “the power of prayer.” Can you think of a food that tastes better than it sounds? (blood pudding is my choice, but that’s another story...) I have a suspicion that a lot of people are turned off by the thought of prayer and never dare to try it. It sounds boring: you picture somebody kneeling in a quiet church or sitting in a chair with a prayer book, or repeating “Our Fathers” or rattling off a list of things they need from God. It sounds too quiet, too passive; it sounds like a waste of time. So, for a moment, let’s not talk about prayer at all.

How often do you get together with your friends and basically do nothing? OK, you may be walking around a mall, or listening to music, or nibbling at your favorite fast food joint, but the point isn’t really what you’re doing, or even what you’re saying. The point is being there, together, right? Prayer can be that. The best prayer IS that: just enjoying being in the presence of the Lord, confident in His love for you and wanting to love Him back. Prayer with Scripture isn’t so very different from listening to music with a friend, except that the Scriptures become the Lord’s voice for you. Once the words become second nature, the Jesus Prayer becomes a way of slipping away and just chilling with the Lord. So, the way you react when you hear the word “prayer” may say something about how you view your relationship with the Lord. Is prayer a duty you perform (or feel guilty not performing)? Do you rattle off a list of needs and intentions as if God were a cosmic supermarket? Do you tell God what you think He wants to hear and just recite memorized prayers at Him? Or is the Lord someone you feel close enough to, comfortable enough with, that you look forward to just spending time every day just “chilling”? Prayer is so much more, but it starts there.

--Reverend John “Jack” S. Custer is the Dean of the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also the Professor of Biblical Studies.

Upcoming Holy Days and Events
--Rebecca Dzurisko

It’s that time once again: Rally 2002 is here! The second ByzanTEEN Youth Rally will be held from June 27th thru 30th at Mount St. Macrina. Teens from across the country will unite for the second time to learn more about their faith and become closer to God. Guest speakers, workshops, mass on the grass, and a cruise will all be part of the fun again this year, as well as some new activities in the works. Teens between the ages of 13 and 19 are welcome. The cost is $150 per person. For more information, call 708-645-0241 or visit the web site for all the details and some great memories of the last youth rally!

Don’t unpack your suitcases yet, because World Youth Day will be held from July 23rd thru 28th. This is a wonderful pilgrimage for all Catholics ages 16-33 who want to learn and celebrate their faith. People worldwide will come together in Toronto, Canada and partake in social service projects and masses, as well as have the opportunity to pray, see concerts and plays, and see the Pope. All details can be obtained by visiting their web site at or call 909-822-7663.

In Our Prayers
--Erica Houk

At this point in time, I think that everyone is trying to forget the horrible events of September 11, 2001. However, I have chosen to write about this day of infamy because the people who have lost so much still need our prayers. I am confident that all of us have been praying for the victims and their families; but ask yourselves, who among us has prayed for the individuals who created the massacre? I realize what a far-fetched idea this is and I understand that this would be a very hard thing to do, and I personally have yet to find it in my heart to do so myself. As far as I’m concerned, the men who hi-jacked the planes, Osama bin Laden, and all who aid him, and most of all the Afghan people, need our prayer as much as anyone else. These terrorists are brain-washed and need help in realizing the value of any human life; ask God to give them this help. I would also like to ask all of you to keep in your prayers all the people of my parish. Our church is currently undergoing a huge renovation project and we have been facing many challenges. For example, we have been celebrating Liturgy in a very small, cramped social hall. We ask you to pray that God gives us the patience to survive through the duration of our time without a church, and strength to face the changes we will soon see.

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
(Timothy 4:12)

ByzanTEEN Chat Box

Got somethin’ yah wanna say? Say it here! Glory to Jesus Christ! I just wanted to say that I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing everyone at the Rally! Get ready to have a great time, but especially prepare to “hook up” with Jesus! He’s looking forward to the Rally, too. How do I know? I’ve got connections…actually…we all do! See yah in June! God bless all of you!

Love and Prayers,
Sr. Celeste

P.S. A great BIG “Hooray!” to Sarah Cooley, Rebecca Duriscko, and Erica Houk! Thanks to Fr. Jack!

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Youth Rally 2004 participants