Youth Convention kicks off with message of ‘Christ is alive’
“When I say Christ, you say Lives.”
With that the 68th annual diocesan Youth Convention kicked off, seeing hundreds of teenagers gather at the Buffalo Grand Hotel for a weekend of faith, fun and friendship.
“Christ is alive. He is our hope and in a wonderful way, He brings youth to our world and everything He touches becomes young, new, full of life,” said Madalyn Cardillo, one of four MC’s for the weekend event. That phrase comes from Pope Francis’s, “Christus Vivit,” the first apostolic exhortation written directly to the youth of the Catholic Church. “This is the best time in history to be a young Catholic, when all of the attention is on what our gifts, our energy, our faithfulness can bring to the world,” she added.
“Christus Vivit” or “Christ is Alive” served as this year’s theme.
During the convention’s opening session on Feb. 28, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, apostolic administrator of the diocese, bolted to the stage to welcome the teens.
“This is where are future lies. (You are) not just the future, but you are the present,” he said. “You are the foundation of the Church.”
Bishop Scharfenberger told those gathered that he comes from a strong Catholic family and had a good education. He thought God would be mad if he didn’t abide by Church teaching. While studying Canon Law in his 30s, he wondered why he put himself through all stress of higher education. A friend said it was because God loved him.
“That struck my heart. That really is true,” the bishop said. “I can say that to you with great conviction. When you know and believe God loves you, it drives out all fear. You don’t have to worry about what anybody else thinks. You don’t have to worry about what other names somebody calls you or labels you with. They don’t know you. Only God knows you.” The bishop went on to address the crisis of faith many teens have after confirmation.
“Sometimes we pray and we wonder if anybody is listing. That’s OK. Many of the greatest saints had that same experience as well,” he continued. “Sometimes God takes time to answer our prayers because he wants us to be ready to really hear the answer he wants to give us.”
He also explained that one does not have to be perfect to have a relationship with God, who was known for seeking out sinners.
The bishop summarized John 4:1-40, the parable of the woman in the well who sought out love through bad relationships. Jesus is the first one who can tell her what love really means.
“There’s something for us to learn in all of that. Can you believe that Jesus thirsts for your love? That He wants your love? A lot of time we feel we need to find God, but Jesus is telling us that God is searching for us,” the bishop said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to allow the Lord to finally have His thirst satisfied, to actually say, ‘Lord, I’m not going to hold back my heart from you. I’m not going to be afraid, because I know you love me, and I’m going to let You into my heart.’”
Kathryn Goller, director of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, asked the young Church to pray for Bishop Scharfenberger and all priests present.
“They do a good job of praying for us, but sometimes it’s important for us, the flock, to remember that our shepherds need prayers too,” she said.
On the morning of Feb. 29, Katie Prejean McCrady, a Catholic speaker and author, shared a story of surprise with the teens who gathered from across the Diocese of Buffalo at the Buffalo Grand Hotel.
Shortly after the birth of her daughter, McCrady was invited her to attend the 2018 Synod on Young People conducted in Rome. This role allowed her to offer her input in to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Christus Vivit.” It also offered her and her fellow attendees a private Mass with the pope.
A very organized effort got the guests in the chapel where the pope celebrates Mass each morning. Much to their surprise, Pope Francis showed up early and was able to shake hands with them. McCrady saw him being “so casual and human” that she decided to take a selfie. She showed the conventioneers the shot she took. On the family mantle sits an official photo of McCrady with her head turned away from the pope taking that selfie.
Pope Francis spoke his guests about clericalism, human trafficking and prayer.
“He said something that I have not forgotten. After nearly two years, this quote keeps me up at night. I think it’s one of the most profound things we can contemplate as young people,” McCrady explained. “Pope Francis has gone so far as to say youth is not an age it is a mindset. It’s an attitude. It’s an approach to how we live. The only way that your old is if you become like a museum where you always have a readymade answer and you don’t actually listen to people. The way that you stay young is that you engage in conversation.”
The pope said, “If you are not present, then a part of the access to God is missing.”
“If you are not here in our Church, and not just sitting in a pew going through the motions of sit, stand, kneel, move your hands funny, say what you need to say, walk out,” McCrady continued. “But, if you are not here, fully present, sharing ideas and you vigor and your talents and your insights and your gifts. If you are not there, then we as Church miss out and we are unable to encounter God in new ways because you, the youth of our Church is hiding.”
A 2018 Barna Poll found 14 percent of Generation Z identify as atheist. Sixty percent of Gen Z say they cannot be themselves at Church. McCrady wants the Church to work with teens to learn how to work with teens.
“We want you to ask those big questions. We want you to tell us what you are confused about. We want you to tell us what you want now. We long for the young person who doesn’t sit idly by with their arms crossed. When you are here and you are fully present, we all gain something,” she said.
Jesus didn’t die to save us so we could sit at home and complain on Twitter. The Church needs young people today to be the hands and feet of Christ.
“He saved us so we can see how valuable and good we are. He saved us so we could be in heaven with Him some day. The only way you and I are going to give people the access to God is if we are present, we show up and we share what we know, which is that everyone of us is needed, wanted, valuable and precious. Every single one of us has a role and a purpose and mission in His life. That every single one of us is not here by accident, is not a mistake, is not a screw up, but is purposeful and a thought in the eternal mind of God,” McCrady said. “The Church of Buffalo will not be the Church of Buffalo without you.”