BUFFALO — The 10th National Black Catholic Congress helped further its principle of getting youths involved in the church by offering a variety of workshops and other events geared toward young people.
On July 14, Ansel Augustine, who coordinates black youth and young-adult ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans and works with campus ministry at Xavier University of Louisiana, presented the workshop “Keeping Your Hustle Holy” to teach teens how to live their daily lives according to God’s plan.
To illustrate his point, he used a game involving more than 100 crumpled balls of paper. The game’s goal, he said, was to get rid of the balls of paper by tossing them across an aisle to the other side of the room. The difficulty was that the teens on the other side of the room had the same goal.
As the flurry of paper filled the air, a teen would clear one area of the floor just as four more paper balls landed in the bare spot.
Augustine told the teens that the pieces of paper represented problems. Then he told the teens to unroll the papers. Inside each one was listed the priorities of faith, finances, family, friends, feelings and fitness.
Augustine told the teens to focus on priorities, not problems. He drew on his own experience as a survivor of Hurricane Katrina.
“I lost everything,” said Augustine, who operates the Web site www.holyhotboy.com. “I lost 17 close friends. I was angry and asking why. I kept praying to God, ‘Just let me trust you.’”
Faith in God’s plan is the key to weathering adversity, he said.
“If someone prays for patience, does God give them patience, or does he give them opportunities to be patient?” Augustine asked. “If someone prays for courage, does God give courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous?”
Augustine was not the only person posing questions during the congress’ youth offerings. Young people who gathered July 13 for one of several Youth Mega Sessions at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo were introduced to Bishop J. Terry Steib of Memphis, Tenn., who spoke in a question-and-answer format with the teens. Bishop Steib, a member of the Society of the Divine Word who gained renown for his plan of reopening diocesan schools, was asked what his hope would be for the church of the future.
“That the church would continue to rediscover what it means to be Catholic,” Bishop Steib said. “That it would rediscover it as a way of life.”
Also during the Mega Session, teens had a chance to rediscover their dance moves, as they learned choreography to go along with the song “Stomp” by gospel and hip-hop crossover artist Kirk Franklin.
It was just one of several songs presented that had both a beat and a message. Several artists — including an all-male liturgical dance troupe; football all-American Marlon Favorite, who plays defensive tackle at Louisiana State University in addition to being a hip-hop and R&B recording artist; and 19-year-old Christian rapper Amanda Vernon, who recently released her third CD — performed liturgical dance, rap, hip-hop and R&B songs.
Vernon’s rap impressed Jessica Hendley, 14, of Fayetteville, N.C., in the Diocese of Raleigh, who said she was drawn in by Vernon’s faith.
“I met new people, and the food is really good, and it’s an exciting thing to see so many religious and clergy of different nationalities,” Hendley said.
Several local young people also took the stage to lead songs and dancing.
Leslie Pierre-Philippe, 21, a parishioner of Rochester’s Immaculate Conception Church who is a student at Nazareth College in Pittsford, said she wasn’t very nervous to get up in front of hundreds of her peers to sing and dance.
“A few of us offered to help, and I knew it would be a good experience,” Pierre-Philippe said. “It was very fun, and I’m having a good time.”
Her sister, Nathalie Pierre-Philippe, 22, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the University of Albany, said her first time at the National Black Catholic Congress was a positive experience.
“Everybody has been so kind and sweet and extremely energetic,” Nathalie Pierre-Philippe said.
DeMario Scott, 23, a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Atlanta, Ga., said his youth minister encouraged him to attend the congress and helped him work out finances to allow him to go on the trip.
“It’s also an opportunity to meet new friends and enjoy each other’s company and talk about things we have learned at this conference,” Scott said. “We’ll be able to take it out into the world and spread the word.”
Julian Bell, 21, a student at Monroe Community College in Brighton and a member of Rochester’s Immaculate Conception Church, said he heard about the congress at his parish.
“I think of it as an eye-opener,” Bell said. “It really allows me to get more in touch with my faith. I knew my role as a black Catholic, but this has strengthened it.”