More than 600 high school students from all across the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo gathered for the 67th Annual Diocesan Youth Convention as they participated and got to "Power Up" their faith and relationship with God and others at the Buffalo Grand Hotel March 1-3.
The sentiment of this year's theme echoed for many; it's hard to stay connected to God in the midst of everything else in the busyness of daily life. The convention explored what it means to be connected to God and the ways He can help us to power up for the mission as disciples in the world. Bishop Richard J. Malone said it well,
"As you tap into the power of Jesus Christ (this weekend), I hope that you will be open to allowing him to be your hope, your joy, and your heart's desire," he said during Sunday's liturgy. "I pray that our Lord will truly power up your lives and inspire you to live into the full potential of who he created you to be."
Keynote speaker Robert Feduccia began the convention with a quote he loves from St. Augustine - "You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find the rest in you." Feduccia has been a speaker for Teen Life Conferences, the National Catholic Youth Conference, and World Youth Day.
"The experience of restlessness is so common to humanity," said Feduccia, "but we don't understand what it is. We see that in how, nothing is ever enough. How we satisfy that, that is what our spirituality is. That's the thing I want young people to recognize. That this is a common experience and it is your hunger for God being manifested. I want to confront kids with that and ask them - what are you using to do that. I want to present to them the person that is Jesus Christ. That an intimate relationship with Him - that is the only thing that is ever going to satisfy them."
Feduccia also presented in one of the Mega Sessions called "Science as a Path to God." He talked to the kids about the myth that science and religion are opposed to one another and that there's a secular narrative out there that says the Church wants to keep people blissfully ignorant, because if you expose them to science they'll leave. Nothing could be further from the truth, he said. He conveyed that the wonder and awe of scientific things will lead us to God.
The Youth Convention included fun, faith and fellowship, with activities like 9-square in the air, basketball free throws, an escape room, a foot race, four square, hang out, graffiti walls and tables, power building, a creative corner, corn hole, giant Jenga, a coffee house and a dance on Saturday night. Faith was experienced through prayer with "Paint & Prayer," "What Saint are You," prayer zones and a chapel. Teenagers also participated in Adoration, witness talks, praise & worship, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, liturgy and the opportunity to meet representatives of the diocesan Vocations Office.
Fellowship was evident in a variety of ways. One was via service opportunities like "Capes for Kids" benefitting Oshiei Children's Hospital and Roswell Park, "Mats for a Mission" benefitting our homeless community, and sandwich making to support Friends Feeding Friends. Breakout and mega sessions offered the chance to hear about a variety of subjects - making right choices, feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of life, faith in college, the sacrament of confirmation, and "Is God listening."
The goals of the convention were to provide teenagers with a healthy, positive experience of Christian community, to help teens connect with God, to help young people know and live their Catholic faith more fully, to help teenagers grow in personal wholeness and holiness, to provide opportunities for teens to evangelize and be evangelized and to help them put their faith in action as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today.
"When this (convention) is over, I pray that you will leave not only with recharged batteries, but also with a deep desire to help others plug into the power that you have now found," said Kathryn M. Goller, director of the diocesan Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry. "I urge you to be bold, to be not afraid, and to share your faith in Jesus out loud with others."
Youth (and adult) participants attend the convention for a lot of reasons. They come because they can gather as young people of the diocese and meet other youth who share their values, they can learn more about themselves and their place in the Catholic Church, celebrate and deepen their Christian faith as they share beliefs and experiences, and be reminded (or realize for the first time) of the importance of God and the Church in their lives. Participants can also recognize their role in the larger Catholic Church, share their renewed energy and enthusiasm for youth ministry with their entire parish, apply their new ideas and insights to many ministries at their parishes and in their schools and see and understand the power of God's love, the strength of the Catholic community and the gifts that young people bring to the world.
Elaine Ahles, youth minister at St. George in West Falls and Faith Formation director at St. Aloysius in Springville, is an eight-year veteran of bringing youth groups to the convention.
"What this really does for our youth is build community and a sense of a greater Catholic Church, because we're from very small parishes with maybe 20-30 kids," Ahles said. "For them to come here and see 700 plus youth excited about their faith, really gets them powered up. It's very beneficial for them to know, they are not alone, that there is something greater, the universal Church."
What are some of the challenges her Catholic youth are facing?
"They struggle with where God fits into their everyday lives - school, sports. There are always things pulling at them and they are trying to find time to commit to their faith. Coming here, this is a time out for them, where they can be really present for each other and to Jesus. It really leaves a permanent impression."
Bishop Malone bestowed a very special recognition on a group of high school seniors, the Manus Christi Award. It is an award given in recognition of their outstanding moral character, commitment to parish and youth ministry, dedicated leadership, academic success and witness to their faith. This year's recipients included: Anna Brach, Cassandra Brzezowski, Anna Jean Burt, Haley Domin, Aiden Doyle, Blaise Doyle, Andrew Fleckenstein, Jackson Fowler, Nora Hewson, Joseph Meli, Lucas Robertson and Jessica Scharlau.
When asked why she choose to attend this year's convention, award-recipient Burt said it's a lot of fun as she makes new friends, loves being around people who have the same faith as she does and connecting with people. A parishioner at Holy Apostles in Jamestown, she explained what it's like to be a Catholic teenager today.
"It's difficult because there are so many different religions," Burt said. "But I try to show my faith when I can."
"Power Up" concluded Sunday with Bishop Malone concelebrating Mass with over 20 priests, joined by several deacons, the students, parents, chaperones, staff, leaders, volunteers and family members. The procession was led by Dan Schiffhauser on the bagpipes. Both youth and adults served as lectors, ushers, singers, musicians and special ministers of Holy Communion.
The 67th Diocesan Youth Convention was sponsored by the Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Buffalo. The office is commissioned by the Bishop as the primary advocate for young people and youth ministry in the diocese. Goller closed the event by saying, "I am extremely grateful to the teens, volunteers and staff members who have prepared this weekend. We worked hard to create an environment where you can encounter God, share your energy and enthusiasm, and be in peaceful community with one another."