They were in Barre, and they seemed to be having a blast.
But though March 12 is in the winter season, this year St. Monica/St. Michael School welcomed participants to a high school rally with doors wide open to the sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures.
Billed as the Winter Barre Blast, the high school winter youth rally was a celebration of faith that included games, a 75-foot inflatable play structure, talks, music, Mass, Eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation.
Bill Gavin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Burlington, said the day was aimed at helping high schoolers from throughout Vermont grow in love of God and one another.
The keynote speaker was Mario St. Francis, a Catholic evangelist, who told his own story of trouble with the law, military school, worldly success as a model and return to his Catholic faith.
"In the right circumstances and with the right motivation, any of us can be great," he said. "In the wrong circumstances with bad influences, most of us will do bad."
But, "Jesus says, 'If you are seeking, I will show you the way. Follow me,'" he told the gathering in the school cafeteria.
God is everywhere and calls everyone, he said, adding that God wants everyone to be godly, pure and happy. "Jesus invites us to live an amazing life together," he said.
St. Francis encouraged the young people to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, saying people are concerned about their outward appearance and grooming but often forget about their soul. "We do all this stuff to look cool, but our soul has not been washed" in confession, he said. "If you have trouble loving, if you have trouble forgiving, that's because your soul is clogged up."
Five priests heard confessions in the church during eucharistic adoration after the talk.
Earlier during the rally, participants attended the regular Saturday afternoon Mass at St. Monica Church.
In his homily, Father Scott Gratton, parochial vicar of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, pointed out the various ages of people in the congregation and said, "You have the Church alive right here."
He spoke of his love for his faith and for the Eucharist and said that there is but one reason people have left the Church: They do not understand what happens on the altar. It is there that bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
During the current Year of Mercy, Gavin said he hoped rally participants would reflect on the mercy of God. "We are all here [in the world] because of God's mercy," he told them.
Chris Titus, a chaperone from St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Windsor, said she hoped young people would be able to show mercy in their personal lives. "There is so much hate out there," she said. "Faith, mercy and love will bring you to God . . . . If they can show more mercy to each other, it will be a better place."
This was Hannah Eastridge's first high school youth rally. The high schooler from St. Francis of Assisi Parish said she thought it was fun to meet people and interesting to share the same faith.
"This brings you together with people of the same age who are interested in learning about Christianity," said Nathalie Paquette of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Richmond.
Keanan Kelley, a high school student from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, enjoyed the various activities at the rally. "We're not just sitting around," he said.
Karen Harkins, a chaperone from the Windsor church, offered this about the event: "Bill [Gavin] got their attention, and Mass was incredible. Father Gratton was very inspirational."
The Winter Barre Blast continued with a junior high winter youth rally on March 13.
Article and photos by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.