AUGUSTA — More than 130 middle-school-age youth and their parents gathered in Augusta March 4 to learn the fundamentals of bridge building, but not the kind that span waterways, the type that connect people, according to a news release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
“Try to be more open minded about people and get to know them better before you make decisions about them,” said Julia Pisani, from Good Shepherd Parish in Biddeford, according to the release.
The middle school rally, Build a Bridge, Love Your Neighbor, provided the teens with an opportunity to gather with their peers around the diocese and celebrate their faith and the gifts they bring to the church. The event was designed to help the participants become more aware of God’s presence in their lives, and to encourage their participation in the life and mission of the church, through their parish communities.
The rally, sponsored by the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, included workshops, small group sessions, and activities, both for the youths and their parents.
“We all have things in common, no matter how different we are,” said Mike Patin, the keynote presenter, according to the release. “We have stuff in common, the thing is to figure that out and to build those bridges.”
Patin, a former high school teacher and coach who travels around the country speaking to youth groups, said no matter what a person looks like or what image he or she presents, everyone is dealing with something on the inside, such as conflicts with their parents, struggles with homework or the threat of bullying.
“Everyone has something going on, and you don’t know what it is,” he said. “Everybody here is searching for something, and everybody here has a story, not a label but a story.”
Patin had the teens break off into pairs and then gave them challenges, such as discovering similar places they have visited in Maine or similar foods they have recently eaten.
“You have to figure out what you have in common with people who seem different. We both may like ice cream. We both might like the Patriots,” he said.
He told them that they need to be bridge builders because bridges don’t build themselves. He gave them an acronym, ARCH, to follow, telling them that you have to ask God to help you see who your neighbor is, you have to try to read what is going on with the person, and then you have to try to connect with them by finding common ground. Finally, he said that it’s important to realize that everyone needs help from others and can offer help to others.
“I took away that it doesn’t really matter who you are, you can still help someone,” said Leah Gilbert, who attends St. Rose of Lima Parish in Jay, according to the release.
“You have to help everyone, no matter what they look like, because it’s good to help people,” said Hannah Coates, also from St. Rose of Lima.
“It’s important to show mercy to others because there a lot of people going through things you don’t know about and not to judge others,” said Pisani.
“Everybody is going through something, and you just don’t know it, so you have to be nice to everyone,” said Haley Martin, from Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville.
The young people also contributed to a giant mural, sharing their individual impressions of what it means to build bridges and love one’s neighbor.
In addition to Patin’s presentation, Katy Sparda-Cloutier addressed the group about being “social media smart.” Sparda-Cloutier, a wife, mother, and licensed clinical social worker, offered advice to both the adolescents and their parents. The Augusta rally was one of two being held for middle school youths on the weekend of March 4-5. A similar gathering was held in Presque Isle.