Like the World Youth Day gathering that unfolded that week in Panama, the Jan. 26 Panama in the Capital stateside festival in Washington, D.C., for Catholic young adults included catechetical sessions, with panelists reflecting on different aspects of living the faith in today’s world.

The daylong festival included a Vigil Mass and candlelight Stations of the Cross at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration and Confession, and panelists speaking at The Catholic University of America and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.

During one session, Sarah Kaczmarek, Father Shawn Carey, and Father Ivan Pertiné spoke on the panel “Sharing the Adventure of the Gospel.” 

Kaczmarek spoke of her work as associate director of Alpha Catholic and her belief that young people have profound and unique gifts to contribute to the Church. Alpha is an evangelization program designed to bring people together over a series of weeks for food, lectures, and discussions of the Christian faith.

“Hopefully it will be an encouragement to you to see yourself as an agent of evangelization, as someone who could radically shift the life of not just one person or two people, but the Church in her goodness,” she said. 

Kaczmarek told the story of her encounter with a young man struggling with a heroin addiction and her sharing the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son with him. 

“The Gospel still has power. It is just as powerful as it has ever been,” she said. “But the culture in which we are trying to share the Gospel, the culture in which we are trying to evangelize, is changing radically and rapidly.” 

This is both the challenge and the adventure of the Gospel, Kaczmarek said. 

“We are desperate to go out and get everyone to come home into the Father’s house, (and) experience that love themselves,” she said. “And we are open to finding new methods, new expressions, new ways of doing that.” 

Father Pertiné director of the Saint John Society, a Society of Apostolic Life dedicated to the New Evangelization, spoke of how his missionary work helps him understand the adventure of the Gospel.

“Christ is the most powerful ingredient in the life of a person,” he said. “There are many ingredients in the life of a human person: family, education, friends, social background, health condition, circumstances… they condition us in many powerful ways. We discovered that the most powerful ingredient is Jesus Christ, more powerful than any of these other ingredients, and I would say more powerful than those summed up together.”

Father Carey is one of the few deaf priests in the country and works as director of the Archdiocese of Boston’s Deaf Apostolate. He used sign language and an interpreter to speak to attendees about Jesus’ encounter with the deaf man. 

“Jesus is willing to listen, he has good listening skills,” Father Carey said. “That is a model of what we are supposed to do, of a skill we should have… Listening is the key to evangelization.” 

“Jesus can make communication possible,” he said. 

Father Carey told the story of how his parents searched for a church and a priest who would give him his first Holy Communion. After many failures, they finally found a priest who listened and was hospitable. 

“Welcoming is how we share the adventure of the Gospel,” Father Carey said. 

“And now I’m a deaf priest!,” Father Carey said. “Looking back, wow! I never imagined this would happen, but God has a plan.” 

“I hope for you all, when you go back home, I encourage you to enhance the life of the Church by including all sorts of people,” he said. “Not just the word inclusion, but it means everyone belongs to the Church. Not just including them, but everyone is an integral part of the Church. We can learn so much from each individual.” 

At another stage, panelists spoke on “Holiness and Hollywood: A Sit-Down with Catholic Film Producers.” Eric Groth and T.J. Berden shared their faith journeys and their vocations to evangelize through filmmaking, through movies like “Full of Grace” and “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” 

Groth spoke about how the vibrant youth ministry at his childhood parish inspired him to use new media to share the Gospel. 

“I was excited about the fact that we could present the Gospel to people in ways that aren’t boring,” he said. “We can present the Gospel to people in ways that are creative, that showed beauty, goodness, and truth.” 

Groth said he discerned the call to enter ministry instead of pursuing a career in Major League Baseball.  

“I like to tell people I chose the more spiritually lucrative route, the less financially lucrative route and went into ministry,” he said. “For me, it became a desire to pass on what I had experienced, to share the faith with young people and do it in creative ways.” 

Groth said the willingness to listen and do God’s will, to be on the journey, has taken him places he could not have imagined. 

“Doors opened, doors I couldn’t pry open with a crowbar if I tried,” he said. 

In a panel discussion on “Sinners and Saints: How Ordinary People do Extraordinary Things,” Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville encouraged young adults to look to Mary’s faith and commitment as an example of saying “yes” to God and of devoting one’s life to Christ. “The Holy Spirit will guide us to wherever Jesus wants us to go,” he said.

Humility was a hallmark in the lives of the saints as they followed Christ, the bishop said. And he noted how Pope Francis has emphasized encountering and accompanying others, especially those in need of Jesus’s mercy and healing.

Bishop Dorsonville, who earlier served as vice president of mission for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and as director of its Spanish Catholic Center, said, “When you sit down with someone and share the journey, that person doesn’t need you to fix their life, that person needs you to love him or her.”

The bishop noted that people seeking to follow Christ in their lives “are immigrants (on a journey) to heaven.”

Also at that panel, Leonard DeLorenzo, the director of undergraduate studies at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame, noted how Mary in the Annunciation narrative first listened to the angel Gabriel and pondered what God was calling her to do, and then acted to follow His will.

“I work with a lot of young people,” he said. “The end of discernment is your freedom to say ‘yes’ to something. All mentoring and formation is about preparing you to say ‘yes.’”

DeLorenzo also encouraged young adult Catholics to become active members of a parish, where they can live their faith in a community.

In the question and answer session during that panel discussion, a young woman noted that she attends a Catholic university with access to Mass and Adoration and many resources to bolster one’s faith, but she asked how she could strive for holiness in the world outside that environment.

Another panelist, Gloria Purvis, a host of EWTN’s “Morning Glory” radio show who chairs Black Catholics United for Life, emphasized the importance of persevering in prayer. “You can be close to the Lord anywhere” and find ways to grow in holiness, she said.

At the Jan. 26 Panama in the Capital stateside World Youth Day festival, Catholic young adults pray during a Vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (CS photo/Javier Diaz)

Rebecca Algel, a freshman at Catholic University, attended the session “How to Take Your Prayer Life to the Next Level” and said it provided her with a new perspective of faith and prayer. The event, she said, helped her understand the universality of the Catholic Church and that “this is something we have in common.” 

Marisally Santiago came with a bus of 61 young adults from the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, where she works as Associate Director for Hispanic Youth Ministry and Young Adult Outreach. She attended a session in Spanish about discerning and following God’s call, and appreciated how the speakers conveyed their personal experiences. She also enjoyed the music from the Jorge Zurita Band.  

“Any time you get to clap and dance, it’s always good,” she said. 

Santiago said she hopes the young people she brought to the event will leave inspired to listen to and serve the Lord. 

“I think it is a re-energizing of the soul to seek Christ and to not be afraid to say ‘yes,’ and not just for themselves, but to share it,” Santiago said. 

(Mark Zimmermann, the editor of the Catholic Standard, contributed to this article.)