8th graders 'gather as one'

RALEIGH – As they stood and sang the entrance hymn, “Gathered As One,” many of the 700 Catholic school 8th grade students looked around Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral.

Together they represented more than 20 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Raleigh and came to the 8th Grade Baccalaureate Liturgy April 25 from cities such as New Bern, Rocky Mount and Burlington.

The event, which included an outdoor lunch after Mass, is in its second year. It began in 2019 but took a hiatus in recent years due to COVID-19. The students, who are about to graduate middle school and go to high school, gathered with their pastors, educators, administrators and parents for the liturgy.

Many of them took on important roles, such as serving at the altar, sharing readings and presenting the gifts. They also offered prayers of the faithful for intentions such as the pope, those who are suffering, civic leaders and their parents.

During his homily, Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama encouraged students to look at the statues of the saints in the cathedral. He likened their presence in the church to statues or paintings of exemplary athletes in a sports hall of fame.

Bishop Luis asked the students to think of how the saints lived their lives, and for the students to reflect on what they are learning and how they will look back on their own youth.

“Would you like to be remembered in such a nice way? To be in the ‘hall of fame?’” he asked. “This is the age in which you are trying to live your lives in the best way possible.”

The bishop talked to the students about his own experiences as a student their age and how he often looked for opportunities to get out of class, which drew an understanding laughter.

“Why did I do that?” he asked with a smile. “Because being a teenager is not easy. And sometimes being in a classroom is not easy.”

He ended the homily by challenging them to reflect on one thing they are thankful for regarding their time as students and to thank God for that one specific thing.