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Abbey Youth Fest: Wet but blessed

“Be it done unto me” turned out to be a fitting theme for Abbey Youth Fest 2017 as organizers, speakers, youth leaders and hundreds of young Catholics responded with grace and aplomb as heavy rains
 forced a change of plans for the event, which took place on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, at St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College near Covington.
Coming a year after the devastating flood of March 11, 2016, when Abbey Youth Fest was forced to cancel the event, this year’s AYF promised great things.
And great things happened, just not according to the original plan.
When heavy rains came just after lunch, the decision was made to move the Fest indoors, splitting up the crowd between the gym and Benet Hall. The two afternoon speakers – Stephanie Gray and David Calavitta – took turns in each location, and then Mass was celebrated under the breezeway at 5 p.m. The day ended with food, music and adoration.
Not bad for a plan that had been made but never tested.
“We got the kids to safety, regrouped with our presenters and enacted a plan we never really thought we’d have to use,” coordinator Christine Kelly Baglow noted on her Facebook page on March 26. “Those who stuck it out with us I believe had an anointed time. The Lord really shows us that he is the one doing the work, and he doesn’t require anything more than a willing vessel.”

Thanks for post-flood relief
Baglow also thanked the youth groups who returned in 2017 after last year’s flood. Many of the groups asked the Abbey to keep their registration fees from 2016 as a way of helping in flood recovery.
“The faithfulness, kindness, generosity and passion of the youth never cease to amaze me,” Baglow said.

Last Saturday, there were plenty of “willing vessels” as Baglow and her team adapted on the fly, communicating with youth group leaders through an app that allowed Baglow to keep everyone updated about new developments.

Those who stayed, as Baglow said, were happy to be there.

“This is an adventure,” said Gail Dryden, an adult core team member from St. Bernadette in Houma. “We knew the weather would be nasty, and we came prepared. We were game for anything.”

For Alison Guerra, who works for the Archdiocese of New Orleans in the office of priest personnel, she was just happy that her son’s Mass setting, the “Mass of Mercy,” was finally unveiled. John Guerra had written it for last year’s Abbey Youth Fest, which was canceled. As an added blessing, Alison Guerra said, her daughter Olivia sang for the Mass, while her newfound sister, Ann Strubler, flew in from Detroit to play the violin.

Abbey Youth Fest, the annual celebration of young Catholics, attracts nearly 250 different groups from all across the South and has surpassed 4,500 participants per year.

When it came to packing the field, this year seemed to be no different. Before the after-lunch move indoors, thousands enjoyed the first keynote speaker, even as showers came and went. Katie Prejean McGrady fired up the youth as she told entertaining stories about her life and started things off inviting everyone to “turn around and hug someone.”

A veteran of Abbey Youth Fests, she said, “I know what it’s like to be here in the rain.”

Not many youth at the time seemed to mind the intermittent downpours. “I am loving it!” Nicole Westerfield, with the St. Clement of Rome CYO from Metairie, said as she stood with her friends on a puddle-filled tarp. “I am here to worship God and be with my peers.”

McGrady, expecting a baby in August, used plenty of humor (“Algebra is a result of original sin”), to get to the heart of the matter: “We were not made to lie. … When God made us, he made us with a plan, to be holy, to be in relationship with him.”

She told the crowd how Eve “selfishly chose, saying ‘this is what I want.’ But is that how the story ends? No! There is a response. God had a solution, and the solution is a girl, minding her business on a Tuesday morning.”

Just say ‘yes’
McGrady described how Mary was “approached by a supernatural being. … She listens to the angel. She is full of grace and she reverses what had been taken. She says ‘may it be done unto me.’ … Those are the most powerful words in sacred Scripture – “Let it be done unto me.”

Mary’s simple yes, McGrady said, results in a world where we, too, can respond. Her surrender gives power to the rest of us. “She allows us to stand in the rain and listen to a red-headed woman scream about Jesus. … This day is your annunciation. When you surrender, you will be in the hands of God himself; the God who can calm the storm.”

McGrady’s words turned out to hold more meaning than she may have intended, as hundreds said “yes” when asked to do something they may not have planned when they arrived on the grassy field early on Saturday morning.

They surrendered to God’s will, said “Be it done unto me,” and the rest of the day was filled with grace.

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