ROCHESTER — Slightly more than a mile west of the Crowne Plaza Hotel — where the Diocesan Youth Convention was taking place Aug. 28-29 — a bunch of conventioneers spent part of their Saturday in much less comfortable conditions.
Plodding through a steady rain, the group of approximately 80 teens traversed Brown Street, Jefferson Avenue and West Main Street, singing and praying for peace and justice. The late-afternoon walk drew a number of curious residents to their front porches, in a partially renovated neighborhood near Ss. Peter and Paul Church where newly built houses were sprinkled among others that had badly deteriorated.
Many walkers exchanged friendly waves with the onlookers. At one point Steve Legere, an adult chaperon, shouted “How you doing?” to a young woman. “Beautiful. Thank you,” she replied, smiling and holding up folded hands from the porch of a large, antiquated house.
Inside the structure, just nine days earlier, another woman who lived there was found severely beaten and pronounced dead a short time later. Outside the same house, a man was shot to death last year.
The connection between troubled inner-city folks and diocesan youths was heart-warming for Ryan Cuer, a member of the Diocesan Youth Committee.
“It’s a community. It makes me feel so happy that it happened,” said Ryan, 16, from Henrietta’s Church of the Good Shepherd.
Moments earlier, Ryan had become choked up while leading prayer outside the house of the beating victim. He explained that a close friend, 17-year-old Matt Kato, was also a recent victim of violence, having been killed July 21 in a two-car accident. The driver of the other car has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly driving drunk.
Prayer walks, along with ensuing workshops and dinners, were conducted Saturday at six Rochester parishes: Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Monica’s, St. Bridget’s, St. Andrew’s, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Mary’s. Following this first-day segment of the convention, teens returned to the Crowne Plaza for an evening reconciliation service involving 30 priests. The crowd of 550 participants, from all parts of the Rochester Diocese, then closed the night out with a “Fun Fest” filled with dancing and singing.
Spirits remained high the next morning with a rousing Mass celebrated by Father Joseph Marcoux, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Cathedral. The liturgy was fueled by the music and video talents of renowned British musician Sal Solo, who served as keynote presenter throughout the weekend.
Whereas such high-voltage atmosphere is an essential part of any Diocesan Youth Convention, the crux of this year’s theme, “Plant Justice and Grow Peace,” laid in the more sobering sessions on that wet Saturday. As follow-ups to the prayer walks, workshops raised issues surrounding racism and stereotypes; the right to life; homelessness; the environment; the poor and vulnerable; and violence.
While walking along the edge of downtown Rochester, the contingent for St. Mary’s Church passed by an old subway bed that is populated by homeless people. The ensuing workshop featured a witness talk by a teenage girl, Samantha Terry, whose brother was murdered last fall. Then came a lecture by Moses Robinson, who — drawing on his experience as a Rochester police officer — emphasized the growing number of gangs, bullying, split families and suicide, particularly in the city but also in less populated areas.
Cady Stanton, 17, from the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, said she normally doesn’t face the kind of violence described by Robinson. However, she said her community has been touched by the violent deaths of two female Geneva teens who were reportedly strangled last winter.
“We know it’s out there,” Cady remarked.
Cady added that the workshop presenters provided more impact than simply viewing media reports. “When you see the person, it’s a face and a name,” she said.
“You do connect more hearing somebody’s story, instead of reading it off a piece of paper,” agreed Matt Marisa, 15, from Immaculate Conception in Ithaca.