Some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary sing the group's anthem Sept. 30 at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chewan, Lebanon, during the annual commemoration of the Marian group. (CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of the Youth of Mary)
Some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary sing the group's anthem Sept. 30 at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chewan, Lebanon, during the annual commemoration of the Marian group. (CNS photo/courtesy Congregation of the Youth of Mary)

Church youth groups provide an escape from life's pressures and help in forming strong friendships, young Lebanese Catholics said at the annual meeting of their Marian group.

Under the theme, "Mary is Our Captain," some 500 members of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary met Sept. 30 at St. Joseph School in Cornet Chahwan, north of Beirut.

Celebrating Mass for the gathering, Maronite Bishop Michel Aoun of Jbeil urged the young people "to be like eagles," to rise up above the world and to keep their eyes on Jesus.

"That's how the Christian life should be," he said.

"You were chosen by God to be a light. You can be a witness to others who don't know Jesus," Bishop Aoun said, noting the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops to discuss "young people, the faith and vocational discernment" at the Vatican.

After the Mass, Christine Zaghrini, 27, told Catholic News Service: "This group is my escape. It's a place where I meet God."

"With all the chaos and stress we face, it's easy to 'lose' God. But I know that on the day we have our weekly meeting ... I can be refreshed in my faith," said Zaghrini, who works in information technology.

"I feel the presence of the Lord when I'm with this group," Zaghrini said. "The church listens to us. The church helps us," and young people need its support, she said.

The Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary has membership for young people, ages 20-35, in 17 regions throughout Lebanon, with around 1,200 members in 121 local groups. The organization also has groups for children, teens and adults over 35.

"I grew up in this group," said Nassib Achkar, 25, a talent agent. "I have good friends here, and I found a special love and bond, like brothers and sisters."

Working in the entertainment industry, Achkar often encounters atheists and people with little faith, he said.

"They are lost. Sometimes they make fun of me," he said, noting that his faith is "something they can't understand."

"I feel I have a responsibility to be a witness. God put me in this profession for a reason, to help people to believe," Achkar said.

Joe Allam, 26, in his first year as a seminarian, told CNS that the youth fraternities helped him to discover his vocation.

After all the spiritual retreats, "I could hear Jesus talking to me and inviting me to this road," he said, noting that "when you are close to Jesus ... you become familiar with his voice."

"Every young man and woman has to know that their church has a past, and the older generation should feel assured that the church has a future -- we are the future of the church," Allam said.

Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop Aoun was Father Marcellino Assaf, who was ordained in September and heard his calling to the priesthood as a member of the Fraternities of the Youth of Virgin Mary.

Bishop Aoun told the young people it is every Christian's vocation "to be a message of life and love."

Families and work "should be a means to gain the kingdom of God, so that God is the only constant in your life," he said, noting that through Mary's help, "everything you do can lead you to God."

Especially with the synod happening in the same month, it is good to see Lebanese youth "gathering with such joy and enthusiasm," Msgr. Ivan Santos, charge d'affaires of the Vatican Embassy in Lebanon, told Catholic News Service.

"They are the hope of Lebanon," he said.

Msgr. Santos urged the young people to follow Pope Francis' call to pray the rosary each day in October.

"Young people, you are the answer for the church and for your country," he said.