Convention keynoter stokes emotions - Catholic Courier

Convention keynoter stokes emotions

ROCHESTER — For a number of reasons, it was wise to have tissues handy whenever Bob Perron took the stage.

Perron is a self-described “Stooge 4 Christ,” based on his uncanny resemblance to The Three Stooges’ Curly — both in appearance and the ability to generate laughs. His hilarious monologues had many teens and adults practically crying with laughter — and yet, within moments, his touching tales could evoke emotional tears from the same people.

The energetic Perron served as keynote speaker for the Diocesan Youth Convention, held Nov. 17-19 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. According to Sue Versluys, diocesan youth-ministry coordinator, the event attracted nearly 600 youth and adult-chaperon participants from all parts of the Rochester Diocese.

Perron wasted no time getting the crowd hyped up, starting his Saturday-morning address with a game of “Simon Says” that saw teen after teen fail to capture the $50 prize he offered. He then instructed audience members to share inane information with each other, such as whether they flush public toilets with their hands or their feet.

The keynoter frequently mentioned his wife and four children, including a 3-year-old daughter who once during Mass was trying to grasp the purpose of a tabernacle. She didn’t care for the idea of Jesus going into a little box, despite her dad’s reassurance that he likes to be in there. So after Communion, as the chalices were being put back in the tabernacle, she shrieked in front of a silent church, “Don’t worry Jesus, I’ll get you out of there!”

As the laughter died down in the ballroom, Perron turned that tale into a teaching moment — as an example of how we can reclaim our childlike faith.

“She believed (Jesus) was her friend, believed that he was real,” he said.

Perron then told of the time he was driving across Kansas to the town of a young friend who had just been killed in a motor-vehicle accident. He pulled over to assist a young woman on the roadside; she had been left there following an argument with her husband. He drove the woman to her home town and ended up helping facilitate a reconciliation with her husband. As for the boy who had died, Perron recalled that as a teen he had gone from being an outcast to a leader — thanks to a popular cheerleader who once reached out to him during a church retreat.

His point in spinning these true stories?

“I do believe everybody in this room is going to have a chance to share God’s love with somebody — today, tomorrow,” Perron said. “We need to share Jesus with one another — to go beyond saying we believe it to living it.”

Bishop Matthew H. Clark picked up on the point of living one’s faith as he celebrated the closing Mass one day later. His interpretation of the convention’s theme, “Walk This Way,” is “to serve in the spirit of Christ.” The bishop said we should serve joyfully, but in doing so we become potential targets for the same ridicule and resentment that Jesus encountered while spreading his message.

“It is not always well-received or understood by others,” the bishop remarked.

More poignancy had accompanied Perron’s Sunday-morning talk as he told of the drug-abusing confirmation student, J.J., who admitted his problem during a retreat; became enraptured in the Bible while undergoing treatment; and returned to serve as lector for the confirmation.

“I have news. God wants to transform your heart, just like J.J.,” Perron said.

Perron saved his most gripping recollection for last. He said he had considered his father “dorky,” citing the cheap, plain clothing that he wore. As he moved into young adulthood the two drifted apart emotionally — until the day his dad called up saying he had Lou Gehrig’s disease and been given about a year to live. When they next met, the father, in great frustration, apologized for whatever it was that had pushed his son away, and Perron felt deeply ashamed. They both cried, then talked for hours and came to understand each other better. For instance, Perron discovered that the cheap clothes had been purchased because family funds were so tight.

From that point on, Perron said, he and his father shared a close and loving relationship, and his dad hung on another seven years despite the progressive paralysis caused by his disease. As he lay near death, Perron asked how he could repay him for all the love he had shown. The reply: “You cannot repay love. You only pass it on.”

That story hit a soft spot with Corinne Grenier, 14, of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County.

“It makes me want to go home and give my dad a hug,” she exclaimed.

Corinne and fellow parishioners Kelsey Cacciaglia and Sarah Clark, both also 14, agreed that Perron’s stage presence is highly effective.

“He related to things we could easily relate to,” Sarah said.

“You felt like you got to know the people he was talking about,” Corinne added.

It’s also no accident that Perron’s tales are all based on true experiences.

“I try to make it real. And the nice thing is, nobody’s going to steal my material,” he quipped.

Perron, 43, serves as youth-ministry director for the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa. He travels the country as an “edu-tainer,” as he calls himself on his Web site. He acknowledged to the Catholic Courier that there’s no more effective method than humor to grab people’s attention and then drive an important message home.

“Comedy is universal,” he stated.

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