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Virginia middle school students, nearly 1,400 strong, attend day of 'friends, faith and food'

Nearly 1,400 teens and tweens gathered for "friends, faith and food" at the Diocese of Arlington's 20th-annual "BASH" event for middle school students, building a foundation for church involvement.

A group of nearly 1,400 Catholic middle school students from Northern Virginia spent a recent Saturday strengthening their faith, making new friends and enjoying fellowship — with the event's organizers believing the students are building a critical foundation for lifelong involvement in the church. 

The 20th-annual "BASH" is the Diocese of Arlington's largest gathering for middle school-aged children. It was held on May 4, 2024, at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington.  

The event has grown considerably from its beginnings at a parish hall in 2003 — and this year, for the first time ever, it had to close registration early due to capacity restraints of the expanded venue. 


In a keynote address, Mari Pablo, a Catholic speaker from Miami, reminded the teens that "in the midst of challenges that we all encounter, we should seek a relationship with Jesus." 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington celebrated a Mass for attendees, telling them in the midst of so many challenges today, Jesus has strong desires for their lives.

"Jesus doesn’t want you to just exist, but to live," said Burbidge during his homily, which was shared with Fox News Digital.  

"He doesn’t want you to feel alone, but to be counted among His friends."

Burbidge said that in the modern era, today's teens find themselves overloaded with extracurricular activities and technology — and may find it hard to work prayer into their daily lives.


"Pray with Jesus. See, if you start your day and end your day in the right way, and get it right, then it’s likely that things will not collapse during the day," he said. 

He told attendees it's crucial to do a "cell-phone freeze" occasionally and to dedicate that time instead to prayer and to strengthening their relationship with Jesus Christ

"How can you listen with so much noise and distraction and untruthful voices all around you? It’s impossible," Burbidge said. 

"In silence, Jesus is going to speak to your heart. He is going to guide you and console you and strengthen you," he said. 

The rainy weather did not damper the event over the weekend — and while many activities were moved inside, attendees were able to play games, nosh on pizza and hear messages from faith leaders from across the country. 

Following the Mass, Burbidge stayed to speak to some of the teens during dinner. 

"Talking to him was so inspirational and his speech was so good," said Eleanor Carrington, 13, of Alexandria, who herself met Burbidge after Mass, in comments provided to Fox News Digital by the Diocese of Arlington.

"It is kind of mind-blowing to me that all these kids would come to Mass on a Saturday and spend six hours here getting to meet the bishop," she also said. 

The Diocese of Arlington hopes that events like BASH — more than just a day of fun and a chance to meet the bishop — will serve to encourage teens and tweens to stay involved with their parishes as they grow into high school. 

Most BASH attendees do not attend Catholic schools, Kevin Bohli, the executive director of Youth, Campus, and Young Adult Ministries told Fox News Digital in an emailed statement.

Rather, they're involved in their parishes either through religious education classes, altar serving or youth ministry programs. 


"Studies show that for every adult in their church that a teenager has a relationship with during their teenage years, they are several percentage points more likely to remain active in the church as a young adult," said Bohli. 

"Our goal is to surround a young person with as many safe, caring adult leaders in their church as possible," he also said. "This greatly increases the likelihood that a teenager will remain active in their faith as a young adult."

Bohli said another component of the event was addressing the mental health crisis facing young adults today. 

"When young people are suffering mentally, they often turn to at-risk behaviors and relationships in order to cope with what they are dealing with," he said.

The presence of adult leaders and mentors in young people's lives, he added, "greatly reduces their likelihood of getting involved in those at-risk behaviors."

"Youth Ministry events like BASH promote healthy, positive relationships between teens and adults and assist these young people in avoiding at-risk behaviors," he also said. 


Fr. Gregory Thompson, parochial vicar at St. Louis Catholic Church in Alexandria, Virginia, said 58 teens from his parish attended the event. 

"For those who experience the Catholic faith in a mostly academic environment, it is great for them to experience other happy kids from other parishes," he said in comments to Fox News Digital. "This way they get to see the joy of being a young Catholic."

"The best thing about BASH is getting to see so many middle schoolers from the diocese. It’s holy energy, and it’s something you don’t get to experience every day," said Paul Przybysz, 14, from Herndon, Virginia, in comments shared with Fox News Digital.

Another attendee said she was attending BASH for the second year, after initially not wanting to attend at all last year. 

"I didn’t want to come last year, but I did, and the talk was so inspiring I definitely wanted to come back," said Gianna Rodriguez, 14, who lives in Prince William County. 

Another attendee also weighed in with comments sent to Fox News Digital. 

"This day is all about friends, faith and food," said Thomas Pacheco, 11, of Fairfax County. "What more could you ask for?"

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