Debbie Herbeck of Catholic Renewal Ministries addresses youth at the Lift Jesus Higher Rally in Toronto March 3. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Youth lift Christ higher

  • March 7, 2012

TORONTO - For the 15th year in a row Canadian and American youths joined together for a day of love, laughter and lifting the Lord higher in their hearts.

Held on March 3 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, this year’s Lift Jesus Higher Youth Rally combined loud music, modern technology and religious testimony, all in an attempt to engage the 1,300 in attendance.

The youth rally was just one aspect of the annual Lift Jesus Higher Rally. It also caters to adults, and this year had to turn people away at the door because it was at capacity.

“The music is louder, we’ve got videos going, so we’re really trying to engage them in a way that they are used to being engaged,” said organizer Debbie Herbeck, who works for the event’s major sponsor, Catholic Renewal Ministries. “Young people today are dealing with a lot of different issues. It’s just really hard to be a young person today and to grow up and make the right choices. We want to help them make the right choices.”

Involved with the youth rally since the early 2000s, Herbeck, a mother of four, has witnessed firsthand the challenges to faith presented to 21st-century youth. To combat these hurdles, Herbeck booked award-winnning Canadian musician Chris Bray, called upon event volunteers to share words of experience and invited Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins to the microphone.

“It’s really important to have events for youth. We are in a kind of world which doesn’t value faith so much so we need to come together to be strengthened in our Lord as a community,” said Collins while making his way towards the adult rally for the closing homily. “Whether you are 15 or 65 you need to say ‘Lord help me to serve you faithfully as a disciple.’ ”

There was no shortage of praying at the event, which opened with the rosary, hosted a midday one-on-one prayer session and closed with a formal Mass — all before 5:30 p.m.

Proof that this event is helping youth make the right religious decisions can be found in 20-year-old Paige Wolniakowski. Two years ago stress, fear and nervous worrying consumed her life.

“I’d always been a person that was stressed about everything,” said the Michigan State University pre-nursing student who participated in several skits during the day. “If I wasn’t stressed about one thing I’d find something else.”

But everything changed with the Lift Jesus Higher Youth Rally.

“It was the first time I came to the rally. I was on the team and I really had no idea what to expect,” said Wolniakowski. “I was praying and I just said, ‘You know God, I don’t want to be the driver in my life any more. I would like you to be the driver and I’ll be in the passenger seat and I’ll let you lead me.’ ”

And lead her He has. After the 2010 rally Wolniakowski continued expanding her faith through further volunteering, including an annual trip back to Toronto with Catholic Renewal Ministries. And she recently found herself at a mission in Mexico, an experience that has her contemplating the religious life.

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