‘Fired Up Friday’ draws over 200 young people to youth center

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

‘Fired Up Friday’ draws over 200 young people to youth center

Over 200 youth from five parishes gather for "Fired Up Friday" at the Blessed Sacrament Youth Center, 3600 W. Cermak Road, on Feb. 16, 2024 for dancing, games and adoration. The center will offer more Fired Up Friday events on the third Friday in March, April, September, October and November. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The youth were given battery-powered candles to use during the prayer portion of the evening. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Joseph Saunders, who goes by King Justus, gives a witness talk near the start of the event. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
In answer to a question, youth raise up their battery-powered candles during the prayer portion of the evening. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Youth place small battery-powered candles on the altar before adoration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maryknoll Deacon Charles Agony places the monstrance on the altar. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maryknoll Deacon Charles Agony leads the prayers during adoration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Jesus “Chuy” DeLeon, executive director of the Blessed Sacrament Youth Center, kneels during adoration as he leads the youth in prayer. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A youth from Cristo Rey Parish looks up while kneeling during adoration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Eucharist in the monstrance as seen in adoration. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Over 200 young people from five parishes spent the evening of Feb. 16 dancing, singing and being encouraged to deepen their relationship with God during “Fired Up Friday” at Blessed Sacrament Youth Center, 3600 W. Cermak Road.

The event began with music and dancing in the lower level of the center and moved upstairs to the gym for a witness talk with Joseph Saunders, who goes by King Justus; praise music; and adoration. Jesus DeLeon, the center’s executive director, emceed the event. Many of the young people knelt on the gym floor during adoration.

Blessed Sacrament Youth Center is located in the former Blessed Sacrament Church. What used to be the main church is now a gym with a regulation basketball court and the lower level includes a kitchen, a computer lab and tables where students do homework and eat during the center’s after-school program.

Fired Up Friday is part of a strategic effort of the center and area parishes to engage young people in their faith.

When DeLeon became executive director three years ago, he wanted to make the center a resource for local parishes and their youth ministry programs, so he worked with Catholic school principals, directors of religious education and youth ministers from Little Village, Back of the Yards, Pilsen and North Lawndale to develop programs.

“We came together and started talking about the challenge of how we’re losing our young people after either Catholic school graduation or confirmation,” DeLeon said.

What emerged was a three-tiered approach that begins with confirmation retreats, which regularly draw more than 200 young people. After the retreats “spark the fire,”, DeLeon said, participants move on to Fired Up Friday.

“You know how it is? The fire, little by little, it goes away. They come back here [for Fired Up Friday] and we turn it on again. They go back to their schools, and that’s how it is,” DeLeon said. “It’s an ongoing experience and encounter.”

If the young people want to go deeper in their faith when they are in high school, they can be nominated by their parishes to take part in the teen peer ministry formation program.

“The focus is, ‘How can you, as a young disciple of Christ, be part of change in your parish, be part of engaging other young people into parish life?’ It’s focused a lot on really ministering to your peers and inspiring your peers to get engaged,” he said. “It’s all Christ-focused. We learn about Jesus and how he engaged others.”

The center also offers training for youth ministers and others who work with young people.

“The idea is that Blessed Sacrament Youth Center becomes that bridge between Catholic schools and confirmation to parish life,” he said. “We’re trying to offer a holistic approach to helping our parishes get their youth ministry programs started, because one of the things we noticed is that almost every parish in this area had almost no youth ministries.”

Parishes outside the Southwest Side have started reaching out to the center and asking to participate in its programs too.

Thomas Howard, one of the founders of the Blessed Sacrament Youth Center, said Fired Up Friday was an answer to prayers, because it was the first time the Eucharist returned to the space since the church closed in 2005.

Howard volunteers as a youth minister at Cristo Rey Parish, 2735 S. Kolin Ave., and he said the center’s partnerships with parishes are exciting.

“It’s like a dream come true for me, as a resident of Little Village, as someone who is concerned about the life of the kids, as someone who wants the young ladies to not get pregnant and the young men not to get shot, that they have a place that they can get trained, that they can have spirit days, that they can belong and be safe,” he said.

Fired Up Friday will take place on the third Friday in March and April and again in September, October and November. For information, visit


  • youth ministry

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