"When I say Christ, you say Lives."
With that the 68th annual diocesan Youth Convention kicked off, seeing hundreds of teenagers gather at the Buffalo Grand Hotel for a weekend of faith, fun and friendship."Christ is alive. He is our hope and in a wonderful way, He brings youth to our world and everything He touches becomes young, new, full of life," said Madalyn Cardillo, one of four MC's for the weekend event. That phrase comes from Pope Francis's, "Christus Vivit," the first apostolic exhortation written directly to the youth of the Catholic Church.
"This is the best time in history to be a young Catholic, when all of the attention is on what our gifts, our energy, our faithfulness can bring to the world," she added.
"Christus Vivit" or "Christ is Alive" served as this year's theme.
During the convention's opening session on Feb. 28, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, apostolic administrator of the diocese, bolted to the stage to welcome the teens.
"This is where are future lies. (You are) not just the future, but you are the present," he said. "You are the foundation of the Church."
Bishop Scharfenberger told those gathered that he comes from a strong Catholic family and had a good education. He thought God would be mad if he didn't abide by Church teaching. While studying Canon Law in his 30s, he wondered why he put himself through all stress of higher education. A friend said it was because God loved him.
"That struck my heart. That really is true," the bishop said. "I can say that to you with great conviction. When you know and believe God loves you, it drives out all fear. You don't have to worry about what anybody else thinks. You don't have to worry about what other names somebody calls you or labels you with. They don't know you. Only God knows you."
The bishop went on to address the crisis of faith many teens have after confirmation.
"Sometimes we pray and we wonder if anybody is listing. That's OK. Many of the greatest saints had that same experience as well," he continued. "Sometimes God takes time to answer our prayers because he wants us to be ready to really hear the answer he wants to give us."
He also explained that one does not have to be perfect to have a relationship with God, who was known for seeking out sinners.
The bishop summarized John 4:1-40, the parable of the woman in the well who sought out love through bad relationships. Jesus is the first one who can tell her what love really means.
"There's something for us to learn in all of that. Can you believe that Jesus thirsts for your love? That He wants your love? A lot of time we feel we need to find God, but Jesus is telling us that God is searching for us," the bishop said. "This is a wonderful opportunity to allow the Lord to finally have His thirst satisfied, to actually say, 'Lord, I'm not going to hold back my heart from you. I'm not going to be afraid, because I know you love me, and I'm going to let You into my heart.'"
Kathryn Goller, director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, asked the young Church to pray for Bishop Scharfenberger and Father Peter Karalus, vicar general of the diocese, and all priests present.
"They do a good job of praying for us, but sometimes it's important for us, the flock, to remember that our shepherds need prayers too," she said.