ROCHESTER — To pinpoint the essence of the Diocesan Youth Convention, a workshop led by Father Joseph Marcoux would be a good place to start.
With 450 teens taking part, the 12th annual convention — held Aug. 13-14 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel — once again proved a popular venue for teens to celebrate their Catholic faith. Yet Father Marcoux, in his Sunday-morning workshop on Catholic identity, implored teens to consider just what it means to belong to this faith.
Father Marcoux asked participants to define Catholic, saying that “there are no wrong answers.” Among the many responses: celebrating Eucharist; to be universal; to have faith in God; and to live the Gospel.
Above all else, Father Marcoux said, “Loving God and loving neighbor — that’s where the Catholic identity begins … it’s a responsibility that begins at home. We are called to love our neighbor.” He said this call begins with our baptism, and that we must be completely committed to our faith.
“If you believe in something with all your heart, you’re going to live your life that way. But if you don’t, you’re going to walk away from it,” said Father Marcoux, who also celebrated the convention’s closing Mass later that morning. The priest serves as parochial vicar for several churches in western Livingston County.
The workshop sent Adam Bock, 17, home with some food for thought.
“My neighbors and those who are in need, I really need to reflect on that,” said Adam, from St. Matthew’s Parish in Livonia.
Other workshops encouraged teens to incorporate their faith and convictions into their daily lives. For instance, in her talk on relationships, Nora Bradbury-Haehl suggested turning to the Bible for guidance.
“If you’re wondering ‘what should I be doing,’ Scripture would be a great place to start,” she said, noting that the Old Testament “is a lot about law, but more about relationships between God and God’s people.” One example is King David, whom she described as a powerful man who made many sinful decisions but was always drawn back to God.
Bradbury-Haehl, who serves as youth minister at St. Paul’s Parish in Webster, added that the Gospels are also great models for relationships.
“Look to Jesus — how did he interact in the world?” she said.
Mike Patin, the convention’s keynote speaker, led a workshop on peer pressure. Participants offered many situations where this pressure is a factor: drinking, having sex, taking drugs, not obeying parents, being challenged about one’s Catholic faith. Among the reasons participants offered for giving in to the pressure were: going along with the crowd, self-doubt, trusting friends, influence from media advertisements, feeling a need to belong.
However, Patin emphasized, “I’ve met too many young people and grown-ups who traded being happy for being cool.”
The nationally renowned speaker from New Orleans recommended that youths stand up to peer pressure even if it means being cast out of a group.
“I see it as taking control of my life,” he said. He also advised that teens “hang around people who are going to help you be the best you can be.”
Patin’s workshop was taken to heart by Sarah Shafer, 14.
“I think the message I really got is to be yourself, and find friends who are mostly like you are,” said Sarah, from Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties.
Justin Twist and Ashley Tyler, parishioners in the Roman Catholic Community of Geneva, echoed Sarah’s thoughts. Justin, 14, said it’s important “to get friends who see the real you.” Ashley, 16, said the messages from that workshop will “most definitely” help her in her daily life.
This year’s Diocesan Youth Convention theme was “Inspired by the Fire.” Along with the workshops, the two-day event offered several other highlights for youths entering grades 9 through 12 and recent high-school graduates: an opening program with Bishop Matthew H. Clark; humorous, lively presentations by Patin; an outdoor Saturday-evening reconciliation service with 25 priests; a cultural-exchange dinner at six urban parishes in Rochester; and a prayer walk along the Genesee River.
Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry, noted that a collection raised $1,000 to assist Catholic Relief Services’ efforts to educate children in Ghana. Conventioneers also collected three carloads of school supplies to benefit Rochester’s Corpus Christi School, St. Bridget’s Parish and St. Francis Xavier/Holy Redeemer parishes.
Adam from Livonia said that the convention, along with the “24 Hours With the Lord” program — a one-day event held in June for young men exploring the priesthood — have had a major impact on his faith.
“They definitely opened my eyes up to my religion, and the possibility of being a priest,” he said.