This year's diocesan Youth Convention is going by the book. The theme, breakout sessions and planning all came from "Positively Dangerous," a youth ministry guide by Frank Mercadante.
The concept of being "Positively Dangerous" means to be so on fire with your faith that the people around you can't help but be touched by it.
"The theme might be misleading at some points, but what it means is having such an enthusiastic and positive energy that it catches on with other people, and having such an enticing faith that other people want to join in," explained Maura Graham, from Our Lady of Charity Parish, Buffalo, a member of the diocesan Youth Board. It is the Youth Board that plans the annual convention, building on what they have seen in years past and tweaking it to appeal to their peers.
Last year's Youth Board read "Positively Dangerous" over the course of the year and asked that it be used as the theme of this year's convention, with the hope that not only would teens come for the weekend-long gathering, they would study the book and embrace the concept.
One of the tweaks to this year's convention is the addition of designated Parish Time. Usually, the teen participants spend most of their time interacting with new friends and small groups, and only gather as a parish during Saturday's dinner. This year, parish members will gather to talk and pray together three times on Saturday.
"In the past we have had our small group time, and our parish time is dinner on Saturday. This year, we will have designated time when our parishes can meet and talk about the things they have experienced," said Sarah Wellence, from St. Stephen Parish on Grand Island.
"One of the added parts of the parish prayer time that we're really excited about, that Frank Mercadante really helped us see the beauty of, is that parishes will have time to talk together, but they'll also have time to pray together, to pray with and for one another. We're hoping this will be a very powerful experience of the Spirit on Saturday night," added Michael Slish, program coordinator for the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.
Another change will be moving the Saturday night reconciliation service to Friday.
"This will allow participants to be renewed before a weekend of fun with Jesus," explained Gianella Marciniak, from St. Benedict, Eggertsville.
The diocesan Youth Board spends about six months planning the convention through regular meetings and phone calls between members. Members usually serve on a couple committees to plan the expo, liturgy, breakouts, small group discussions and the welcoming activities on the main stage.
Much of the planning is still going on. After brainstorming a list of ideas, the board began whittling that list just before Christmas.
"We've got all the ideas out there, now we're figuring out what's practical," said Daniel Ott, from St. Michael's in Warsaw, who's working on the liturgy and expo.
The expo, which offers games and service opportunities, and runs each night of the convention, might be called "Jalapeño Alley" this year.
"The idea behind that was that jalapeño faith is something they talk about in the book, and it's something we're going to cover during convention. It means to have a spicy faith or a loud faith, to be uplifting and outspoken about it. The alley is supposed to have a negative connotation, like they're contradicting each other," said Graham.
Breakouts sessions will all be based on chapters of Mercadante's book, and be centered on loving God and others, with individual sessions focusing on different forms of prayer, such as journaling, the rosary, and praying with Scripture. Presenters will also answer questions including, "How do I know God is listening?" "Can I ask too much of God?" and "Where and how do I start to pray?" This will help teens develop prayer skills that they can apply once they return home.
The Youth Board thinks this year's convention will be good for people who are curious and wondering about their faith.
"The way that Frank writes, and the way the theme is built, is very hands-on and very practical. That might provide some answers to people who have those questions of what does faith mean, or how do I do it," said Slish.
"I also think the theme will inspire 'closet Catholics' who are too afraid to express themselves. They'll come or they'll read about it and say, 'Hey, there are other people who want to pray and express their faith in Jesus just as much as I do.' Hopefully, they will also be able to embrace it and get the courage to do that," said Marciniak.
Convention 2017 will take place at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo, on March 3-5. Father Joseph Espaillat, the spiritual director from the Archdiocese of New York's Office of Youth Ministry, will deliver the keynote address. Frank Mercdante will be on hand to work with adult leaders.
Visit www.dobyouth.org for registration information.