Youth from around the Diocese of Buffalo came together at the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo to be "Positively Dangerous" together from March 3-5. Over the course of the weekend, teenagers sang, prayed, and played games together, heard from keynote speaker Father Joseph Espaillat from the Archdiocese of New York, and shared meals with new and old friends at the 65th-annual Diocesan Youth Convention.
On the opening evening, attendees gathered in the hotel's grand ballroom for praise and worship, then heard an opening welcome from diocesan youth department staff in a celebration of this year's theme, "Positively Dangerous." They also heard the first keynote speech from Father Espaillat and joined in with his unusual mash-up of Catholic prayer and hip-hop music declaring, "Ain't no party like a Holy Ghost party!"
"We and I, personally, am so glad that each one of you said 'yes' to this weekend and made the time and the effort to be here with us and to be 'Positively Dangerous,'" said Kathryn Goller, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Referencing lyrics of the Goo Goo Dolls' song 'Over and Over,' which had just played on the loudspeakers, Goller said, "Turn it on, turn it up, turn it over and we'll start again - the line of that song reminds me so much of what this weekend can be for each of us."
"I really am excited for this weekend, because we have so much in store for you. I hope that each of you will be open to this, because we have so much in store for you. I hope that each of you will be open to this weekend, that you'll open your hearts, and you'll open your mind and your arms to one another, and experience this community and each one of the elements that we have for this convention," she added. "I hope that you'll take some risks - positive ones, of course - and be vulnerable, and just experience the best that this convention has to offer so that we can grow together, no matter who we are or where we came from."
After teens from Our Lady of Charity Parish presented a Star-Wars themed skit, complete with opening crawl and theme music, Father Espaillat led the congregation in a lively hip-hop song with call and response that referenced the theme of the convention and living out the Catholic faith. The priest is a native of the Bronx who is the spiritual director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry in New York City.
"I'm really happy to be here, sharing the Word with you this weekend," he commented. "The theme is 'Positively Dangerous,' and dangerously positive. To live positively dangerous, as my sister, Kathy, was talking about earlier ... to live positively dangerous we need to, number one, love God with all our heart, with all our body, with all our strength and all our soul. Number two, we need to love our neighbors as ourselves."
According to Father Espaillat, it is impossible to be a good Catholic without doing these things, but it is also difficult. "To do this is not easy. If you can't say, 'Amen,' say, 'Ouch,' because for me, to be a Roman Catholic, to be a Catholic priest - and this is not a getup, I really am a priest - my brothers and sisters in Christ, to love God is positively dangerous," he continued. "To love our neighbors as we love ourselves is positively dangerous, and we are going to talk about doing this with authenticity and integrity."
After Father Espaillat's presentation, convention attendees met members of the small groups they would be in for the weekend, received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, prayed and went back to their hotel rooms. Saturday included small group sessions and more keynote speeches. On Sunday, Bishop Richard J. Malone led a closing Mass encouraging youth in attendance to take the lessons that they learned with them for life.
Tom Kubiniec, a parent who stayed behind with staff to see the opening event, had two teenage children in attendance for the weekend: Elizabeth, who served as a youth emcee for the convention, and Alex. The family worships at Assumption Parish in Buffalo. "The theme is fantastic. It gives an opportunity for some folks to put the past behind them and realize that the future is theirs to make," Kubiniec commented.
In addition to Goller, leadership of the youth convention was Michael Slish, program coordinator for the Youth and Young Adult Ministry department; Sarah Leahy, ministry development coordinator; Diane Ruminski, the department's administrative associate; and John Mann, steward of Camp Turner. Both adults and youth from parishes around the diocese also formed committees that made the event happen.
Katie Kittleson of St. Benedict Parish in Eggertsville, one of these committee members, volunteered to help with the main stage events in the ballroom, including the skits and scenes on the stage, as well as various videos and PowerPoint presentations for larger-scale group productions in the ballroom.
"It's really exciting because the group seems to be really involved this year and definitely participating, following along and dancing along," Kittleson said after the opening event ended.