Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2003
Mannafest rocks teens' world
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
As she prayed for relief from her anorexia, 16-year-old Kelsey Lynn fell on the floor and had a most amazing religious experience. She saw the Virgin Mary and Jesus and even had a chat with them.
When the Calgary teen woke up, with a rolled up rug under her neck serving as a pillow, she felt at peace with herself and confident she will be able to beat her eating disorder. "I just felt loved and beautiful."
Lynn recounted her experience at the conclusion of Youth Mannafest 2003, an annual prayer festival organized by the Edmonton Archdiocese to help teens and young adults get closer to God.
Some 250 young people from across Alberta and British Columbia attended the Sept. 12-14 festival at St. Basil's Cultural Centre. The event, formerly known as Youth 2000, is a Eucharistic-centred weekend designed to meet the spiritual needs of young Albertans.
It's been held in Edmonton and around the world since the mid-1990s in response to Pope John Paul's 1989 call to youth to "bear witness of the faith."
The weekend included talks and workshops on vocations and other faith issues as well as Confession, recitation of the rosary, music, meditation, all-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a Eucharistic procession, testimonies from participants and the crowning of Mary, the mother of God.
Archbishop Thomas Collins celebrated Mass for the teens, calling on them to embrace the cross.
"This has been a very joyful weekend, filled with energy and enthusiasm," noted event coordinator Lorianne Potvin, pointing to the teens clapping and dancing to the music of the Edmonton band Solid Rock. "The idea behind this festival is to bring them closer to God and I think we have been pretty successful."
In a bid to fit the beauty stereotypes promoted by the media, Lynn restricted her eating habits and soon became as thin as a toothpick. For a year and a half she would eat just enough to stay alive. Two months ago she realized anorexia is not a pretty thing and started eating properly. She now looks fit.
But Lynn still wasn't happy with her body image and was considering going back to starving herself again before she met Jesus and Mary at the youth festival. "Yesterday I was very angry, I was feeling a lot of hate for myself," she said. "I didn't like myself. I didn't like the way I look."
During a prayer session she asked Jesus and Mary for guidance and got more than she bargained for. As she prayed, the teen was overwhelmed with emotion, tears welling up in her eyes. Suddenly, she lost control.
"I was slain in the Spirit. I fell on the ground and I saw Mary and Jesus," she recounted during an interview. "I felt like I was (sitting) on Mary's lap. And I saw Jesus standing right in front of me." Mary and Jesus reassured her that she is a pretty girl and that everybody loves her.
When Lynn recovered, she was lying on the wooden floor with a small rolled up carpet holding her head. She was confused at first but then she felt a peace in her heart that she had never felt before.
"I felt really connected to Jesus and Mary and I felt loved by everybody," she said. "I felt loved and I felt beautiful."
Francis Fast of Derwent has seen teens drop to the floor crying many times but has not had a similar experience. At the prayer festival, the 18-year-old asked God for the ability to feel like the others but got no reply. He then came to the realization he doesn't need to feel similar emotions to talk to God.
"Without the emotion, I still made a connection with God," he said. "(During prayer) I felt I was having a real conversation with him." Fast said he enjoyed the music and the atmosphere, but what made the weekend unforgettable for him was the sacrament of Reconciliation and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
At Mass on the last day of the event, Collins spoke on the symbolism of the cross, saying it is in the cross that we find our salvation. "It's the cross that's our hope," he said. "This is the sign of our faith. This is the sign of our Lord."
The archbishop encouraged the youths to carry a little cross with them and to have a cross in their rooms and to know what it represents. "It's a sign of loyalty, a sign of love he gave us in the midst of evil," he stressed. "It's our consolation in the midst of our struggles; a sign of hope in our lives."
"Without the emotion, I still made a connection with God."
- Francis Fast
Collins also urged the youth to get involved, saying it is not enough to make the sign of the cross, but it is also necessary to live it out in the real world. "We make a decision for Christ every time we make the sign of the cross," he said. "And we've got to live up to that sign."
The archbishop also challenged young people to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life, asking them to phone him if they know of anyone who has what it takes to serve the Lord as a priest, sister or brother.
Following the Mass, 24 young people, including 11 young girls, stood up when Father Paul Moret, director of vocations for the Edmonton Archdiocese, asked the audience if anyone had felt called to the priesthood or religious life during the weekend event. They all filled out forms with their names and addresses and will be contacted later.
Lynn and Fast both stood up, but neither is sure how far they will go in their religious calling. "I'm not saying I'm going to become a priest for sure," Fast clarified. All I'm saying is I'm open to it right now."