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Faith takes center stage at middle schoolers’ annual BASH

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Nearly 1,000 middle schoolers met at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington for an afternoon of faith, fun and fellowship April 21.  And this year’s BASH was the first that Bishop Michael F. Burbidge attended as well as the largest ever, with over 40 parishes participating. 

The event began at 3 p.m., with dozens of middle school students lined up for outdoor confession while their peers enjoyed navigating an obstacle course, jumping on moon bounces and posing for photos at a photo booth. Then the announcement came for everyone to move inside for a welcome message from Kevin Bohli, executive director of the diocesan Office of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministries, the host organization for the event.

“We are excited that this will be Bishop Burbidge’s first time at BASH and a great opportunity for the junior high students from across the diocese to spend time with him,” Bohli said. 

Next up was the opening blessing by Father Gregory S. Thompson, the O’Connell chaplain.

“I want you to have this opportunity today to listen to God’s word, to have him speak to your heart, and hopefully something you hear today will help you grow in the love of the Lord,” Father Thompson said to 983 middle schoolers before him.

Katie Prejean McGrady, the keynote speaker and a nationally recognized motivator of young people, took to the stage a few minutes later, driving home the theme of fostering a close relationship with Jesus.

“It is extremely rare for over 900 middle schoolers to hang out with Jesus for a day so give yourselves a round of applause,” Prejean McGrady said. 

She added that while we have many ways of identifying ourselves — as students, athletes, children and siblings — “at the end of the day, the best way to describe ourselves is as human beings made in the image and likeness of God who are loved.”

Bishop Burbidge delivered the homily for the Mass that followed, creating an acronym from BASH that would help those gathered know how much Jesus loves them, especially since it was the vigil of Good Shepherd Sunday.  

“In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd — as his flock we are called to follow him,” Bishop Burbidge said. “What does that involve?”

He emphasized four of the qualities that a follower of Christ should seek to cultivate: to be brave because “the Lord will watch over us and protect us”; to be in awe, especially of God’s goodness because even after one sins, Jesus still “seeks us out to love us and embrace us”; the willingness to surrender since it is not about following “my way” but “God’s way”; and finally, humility since Jesus did not use his power and authority to be overbearing, instead the proper goal is to “imitate the humility of Jesus, the one who came to serve and not to be served.” 

Near the end of his homily, Bishop Burbidge asked the middle schoolers to repeat back what each letter in BASH stood for and the auditorium was filled with young voices in unison saying: brave, awe, surrender and humility.

"Thanks for remembering those words,” he said in conclusion. “Good job and God bless you always.” 

Pizza as well as a dodgeball tournament ensued and while the festivities kept everyone engaged, Bohli said that the games served a greater purpose.

“The goal of BASH is for each young person to have an encounter with Christ and to discover the joy of being active in their parish and diocese,” Bohli said.

There were two vocations panels, one for young men and the other for young women. Bishop Burbidge was present for the former, which was held in the high school chapel. 

One eighth-grader articulated the impact of BASH on his faith.

“This event, much like other things in my youth ministry, helps remind myself that I am in the presence of God and helps me grow closer to God,” said Ben Philippart, a student at St. Mark Catholic School in Vienna.

After a performance by the illusionist Danny Ray, Prejean McGrady gave a concluding address to the young people before the 9 p.m. close.

Prejean McGrady's last suggestion was that they not keep what the Lord has done for them private, but to share the good news with others. 

“Imagine if every single one of you walked into your school on Monday morning and when your friends ask, ‘Hey, how was your weekend?’ You respond, ‘I went to this incredible event called BASH it stands for: brave, in awe, surrender and humble. It changed my life,” Prejean McGrady said. “You are the face of Jesus Christ to your friends and exactly whom he needs to testify the beauty of our faith.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018