If you ever yearn for renewed energy, a boost for a sagging spirit or renewed hope, spend three days with 20,000 teens at a National Catholic Youth Conference. I had the privilege of doing just that in Kansas City, Missouri last week.
It was quite an experience to pray, plan, sing, talk and just plain mix with that great assembly, and especially with the group of 650 young people who traveled to Kansas City from our diocese. They were a marvelous presence — warm and friendly, considerate of others, open to new experience, ready to share their experience with others and appreciative of the smallest gift offered to them.
I have many happy memories of those days. Among them:
1) The generosity, professionalism and kindness of our diocesan staff, youth ministers and volunteers who committed themselves to our kids so that they could enjoy a safe and fruitful time at the conference. I know that several of the adult volunteers took vacation time to support our young people. Thanks to the presence of some leaders with nursing backgrounds, the young people who developed a fever, twisted an ankle or wrenched a knee were very well cared for.
2) The special joy it was that Ryan Lumb of Guardian Angels proclaimed a reading at the closing liturgy of the conference, and that Ryan, Courtney Codweis of Mother of Sorrows, and Crystelle Hunzek of St. John of Rochester were among the 60 animators who offered so much to all of us through the course of the conference. They sang, danced and acted in ways that developed the conference’s themes and provided a thread of continuity as the conference unfolded. They were a great gift and a source of pride for all of us from the Diocese of Rochester. Also from our diocese were three ambassadors who introduced speakers at workshops: Adam Ludwig and Becca Hillsdorf of St. Pius Tenth and Meghan Kanaley of St. Michael, Newark.
3) The conference provided an opportunity for me to meet young people from all over the country. I had one session with about 60 young people. It was billed as a “Come and ask a bishop anything you want” session. The young people did have thoughtful and often challenging questions. But they were also quite willing to respond to my questions. For me, it was heartening and encouraging.
A second session I enjoyed very much involved about 100 teens and two other bishops, John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri, and Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa. It was similar in nature and no less stimulating and thoughtful than the earlier session.
In both sessions, the kids focused on prayer, relationships, what they dearly want to give to and receive from their parish communities.
As I write these words on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I am mindful of how grateful I am to God for this gift of new life and energy to our church. I am grateful to all of the adult leaders who served our diocesan delegation with such tender care. I am grateful to all of our pastors, pastoral leaders and parish communities for all that they did to support our kids in this effort through their encouragement, prayers and financial support. All were important in helping our young people to enjoy an experience of faith that they will remember for years to come.
Peace to all.