The weather was ideal for The FEST 2020. The one-day celebration of faith, family and fun returned on Aug. 9 for its 20th year amid the coronavirus pandemic as a redesigned, virtual event with the theme “Glorious.”
“With many events decreasing or canceling this year, The FEST found a way to not only continue, but to grow,” said Len Howser, co-host of the Len and Sara Show, heard 6-10 a.m. on radio station The Fish WFHM-95.5.
Bishop-designate Edward Malesic, who will be installed as the 12th bishop of Cleveland next month, even offered a special greeting.
“I’m in Pennsylvania (in the Diocese of Greensburg, where he is wrapping up his time as bishop) and can’t be with you today, but I look forward to hopefully being with and meeting all of you at next year’s FEST,” he said in a recorded message.
Howser said The Fish, which features contemporary Christian music, helps promote The FEST. “The music and the message of The FEST is what we share daily at the radio station. Through the music on our airwaves and through social media, we celebrate The FEST, which has faith, family and great music – and it’s all free,” Howser said. “It’s a great gift for people of every race, economic and social background.”
He noted that this year, because of the pandemic, The FEST was reconfigured to become TheFEST@home, which allowed even more people to participate and enjoy the features.
“Our listeners thought that The FEST was really needed this year,” Howser said. “I can’t recall any other event that has this many top contemporary Christian artists come together for a one-day event.”
Howser said the participating artists are at the top of their field. “And the musicians have such strong faith and are such positive role models,” he added. “I compliment Father Bob (Stec), Jake (Bihari) and The FEST staff for not canceling this year’s event and even making it bigger.”
Although the normal crowd of about 40,000 could not attend The FEST in person, everyone from everywhere was able to enjoy the event’s features through livestreamed and pre-recorded sessions on their computers, said Father Stec, FEST coordinator.
Nine top Christian musicians -- Casting Crowns, for King and Country, Matthew West, Danny Gokey, Matt Maher, Building 429, Colton Dixon, Jordan Feliz and We are Messengers – offered special sessions recorded exclusively for TheFEST@home audience and shared throughout the day.
All the favorite FEST features could be enjoyed via the new, redesigned website. “Attendees” could watch the musicians perform, visit the Kids Zone, Mom’s Relaxation area, Man Cave, participate in a Zoom session with one of the deacons of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland who prayed with them and offered a blessing, stop by the Catholic Cemeteries’ Book of Remembrance site to write the names of loved ones they wanted remembered at the Mass and more, Father Stec said. The popular raffle drawings took place at the end of the day just before the closing Mass.
Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries celebrated the Mass, which was followed by a special pyrotechnic display. About 150-200 people gathered at outdoors at the grotto at St. Ambrose Parish in Brunswick for the Mass, which included The FEST Band and a scaled-down FEST Choir. About 10 priests – a much smaller number than usual – were concelebrants.
Many other priests sent greetings to those watching online and those attending the Mass in person.
“God is good,” Bishop Gries said. “All the time,” the congregation responded. “And all the time, God is good,” he replied. “What a beautiful night to be gathered for this event.”
In the homily, Father Stec encouraged everyone to “have faith.” He said in the Gospel, Peter forgot about his faith and who was with him, so he started to sink “And then Jesus called out and rescued him.”
He said this lapse of faith could be compared to the difficulties we’ve been experiencing in recent months because of the pandemic. “But God is in our midst. Sometimes he’s in the storm and sometimes in the whispering winds. But he will never allow us to sink or falter.”
Father Stec said we will “see, hear and recognize God reaching out, calling out and saving us.”
He sang a short song about faith to reinforce his message. “We may forget, but God is with us.”
Father Stec said recently a young parishioner dropped off a package from his mother and when he opened it, inside was a framed, cross-stitched Prayer of St. Francis.
When he read the enclosed note, he learned that she started it five years ago when his father died, but set it aside and finished it during the pandemic.
“It’s a sign of God’s graciousness and love. What struck me is it’s a work of peace, of building a better world,” Father Stec said.
He noted that 75 years ago, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. St. Francis wrote his prayer hundreds of years ago, “but every one of us can find something in this classic prayer so we can be and can help build up a better, more peaceful world. That requires all of us to have perseverance,” he said. “Building a better world requires us to have extraordinary perseverance. We need to pray together for the grace of perseverance.”
He urged those watching and attending the Mass to build a stronger faith life. “It’s what Jesus is calling each of us to do – to become instruments of God’s faith, to hold onto the vision of God for a more peaceful, loving, faithful world.” And with God’s help and grace, he said we can create a more loving and respectful world.”
Father Stec ended with three things he asked everyone to do: think of how they “get out of the boat and grasp the hand of Jesus,” how to get out of the boat and build a better world and take the time to visit The FEST website to download the Prayer of St. Francis, read it and reflect on the vision that God has for us.
“We all need to do something to be instruments of God’s peace,” he added.
Father Stec invited everyone to visit thefest.us/takeaway for a special video and other things to help deepen their FEST experience. “Hopefully, everyone leaves The FEST with something – mostly the love of Jesus in their hearts, the awareness that there are wonderful people who want to live and live in the way of Jesus, ideas to strengthen the bonds of faith – and family – and community.”
“This is not a vision – it’s a mission. God is in our midst,” Howser said of The FEST.