November 27, 2015

National Catholic Youth Conference 2015

Music, humor, wisdom highlight opening general session at youth conference

Voluntas Dei Father Leo Patalinghug, who has a third-degree black belt in the martial arts, sails through the air to break a piece of wood with his foot during his keynote address at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 19 during the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Voluntas Dei Father Leo Patalinghug, who has a third-degree black belt in the martial arts, sails through the air to break a piece of wood with his foot during his keynote address at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 19 during the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Music, martial arts, beatboxing and breakdancing.

The opening general session on Nov. 19 for the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis offered it all—plus words of wisdom and spiritual encouragement.

Before the speakers took the stage, the stadium pulsed with the lights and beats of a rock concert as the Christian band For King and Country energized the youths with their popular songs.

Christian entertainers Jackie Francois Angel and Paul J. Kim served as emcees, and warmed up the crowd with spiritual humor. Kim wowed the crowd with his beatboxing, using nothing but his mouth and vocal chords to create music and songs.

But the highlight of the session was the keynote speaker, Voluntas Dei priest Father Leo Patalinghug. The Filipino is most known as the host and chef of the Eternal Word Television Network’s cooking show “Savoring our Faith,” and for creating “Grace Before Meals,” an international apostolate to help strengthen families’ relationships through sharing at mealtime.

Not as well-known are Father Leo’s talents as a third-degree black belt martial arts teacher and an award-winning former breakdance choreographer.

It was his martial arts talent that Father Leo called upon to teach the 23,000 youths the tools to lead a spiritual life.

But first, he began with a prayer.

“I’m going to give you the most powerful prayer ever,” he began. “Are you ready? OK, here we go. ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ There you go. That’s it.

“When you make the sign of the cross, you make yourself a target, asking God to look at you. You’re saying, ‘Here. I. Am. Lord,’ ” he explained, punctuating each word with a motion of the sign of the cross.

Touching briefly on one of his favorite topics—food—Father Leo gave the youth a “double dog dare” to make the sign of the cross and pray before meals when eating in a restaurant.

Like omitting the prayer before the meal when eating out, Father Leo noted that “sometimes, we don’t want to be seen for our religious upbringing. Sometimes we want to be seen in the wrong light.

“That’s because we are in a battle. It occurs in our souls, which is why I need to show you, as a martial artist—two-time third-degree black belt—how to fight.”

He then taught the youths about the “A, B, C and D’s” of spiritual combat: avoid, bypass, control, then destroy the devil.

Using a breakdown of martial arts movements—and one affable teen from the crowd—Father Leo demonstrated how the youths can avoid the near occasion of sin, just as in combat a warrior can avoid an incoming fist.

Comparing a punching fist to temptation, he noted that the avoided fist will pass by, just as one can bypass temptation.

“Let the temptation pass you by,” he said. “Be patient. Your worst temptation will not last forever. In fact, your worst temptation might last just 15 seconds, enough time for you to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.”

“If one can do those two things,” Father Leo continued as he grabbed the teen’s now-extended arm with its fisted hand, “you can implement step C, which is ‘control.’

“It’s not controlling temptation, but your reaction [to it].

“And if you can control your reaction, then you can exercise step D, which is destroy the devil.”

Making use of more martial arts moves to teach points of faith, Father Leo talked about breaking boards with the hand and foot, just as “in our lives we are constantly trying to break through barriers.”

First, he said, the martial artist has to go with the grain of the wood—something he compared to cooperating with God’s will.

“The second thing I’ve got to do is acknowledge that this is going to hurt a little bit,” he said. “It really is going to require discipline. … If we don’t have discipline, we won’t be able to break through our barriers in life.”

Next, he said, is to not aim for the board, but aim beyond the board.

“If I do that, that’s like shooting for mediocrity,” he explained. “When you present yourself to God, you can’t be mediocre. You’ve got to live a life of excellence. That means I’m not aiming for the board—I’m aiming for heaven.”

And lastly, he said, “You must practice”—and he proceeded to break through two boards with his bare hands and one board with his foot, feats that brought cheers from all sides of the stadium.

“Our world struggles,” Father Leo said in closing. “All of those people who are in harm’s way battling between life and death, we pray for them, and we want to support them.

“The best way to do that is stand with a brother or sister hurting, with the person who doesn’t have any friends. Be a source of welcome, compassion and generous love.

“I guarantee you, you will be a target. Every time you pray the sign of the cross, realize that God is looking [at you] with love.” †

 

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