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Teens spend weekend ‘Reconnecting’ at youth conference

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The Diocese of Buffalo held its first every virtual youth conference over the weekend of Feb. 16-28. Using guest speakers and a Mass with the bishop, the conference replicated much of the traditional Diocesan Youth Convention. The main difference being this conference took place via Zoom video conferencing.  

Having seen teens lose out on standard gatherings and even in-school socializing due to Covid pandemic, the conference was designed to allow young people a familiar opportunity to meet and learn together. “Reconnecting” served as the theme.

Hosts Jack Moffat and Jack Accurso, youth leaders from Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora, modernized the readings from Sunday’s Mass to describe Abraham sacrificing a season of proms, graduations, and parties to God. 

Guest speaker Paul J. Kim, the author of  the bestselling “A Catholic’s Guide to Adulting” online course and the founder of Triumph Men’s Conference, spoke on Friday night about his journey in finding a relationship with God. 

Admitting that he used to attend Mass strictly to meet girls and donuts, it was after attending a Steubenville conference that he began to relate to the message being delivered. He now laughs at the idea of people who say they are Catholic, but not religious. 

“That’s like being a Girl Scout and not having cookies,” he said. 

Kim went on to explain that many Catholics turn away from the Church because they don’t see a reason for following Church doctrine or traditions because they see it only as a set of rules. They don’t have a relationship with Christ. “Rules without a relationship equals rebellion,” he said.

During a question and answer period, a teen named Kathy accidentally buzzed in. When pushed for a question, she asked, “Have you ever imagined meeting Jesus and what would you say to Him?”

Kim remarked on the beauty of the question because it is often overlooked that God has a place for us in heaven where we will meet Him.

“We need to ask that question regularly. What will I say when I meet Jesus? How will I react?” he replied. “The truth is all those things you can do now, because He lives in us. He’s constantly waiting for you in the Blessed Sacrament in your local church. You can talk to Him in your heart. Any minute of the day He is waiting for you to talk to Him.”

Saturday night saw Doug Brummel and Dave Wilson bring zany characters to their stage to explain the roles of priests and deacons at Mass, the reason for colored vestments, and the liturgical calendar during their “Mass Confusion” show. 

Further Zoom sessions were created for small group discussions on Sunday.

The conference, organized by Immaculate Conception Youth Ministry, hoped to provide some of the guidance, fun and prayer opportunities formerly offered at the Diocesan Youth Convention. 

“It is a bit different from last year in the sense that it is difficult to connect with people,” said Isabella Doyle, one of the young organizers. “I think the most important thing in youth ministry is that you need to be able to connect to people your age. Among young people, they should be able to talk freely about God and express themselves in a way that they know other people will understand. I think that comes from lectures from a young person.”

This was the first youth conference for Catherine Loniewski, who liked the experience. “During the Zoom, I really enjoyed what (Kim) was talking about,” she said. “I got slightly emotional during it. I really connected with what he was saying and really felt Jesus while he was talking.”

Breakout sessions focusing on specific issues or topics, could not take place do to the logistics of the conference. 

“We really couldn’t do that this year, because it’s really difficult over Zoom,” said  Victoria Loniewski. “Given what we’re dealt with, I’m glad we could have had convention at all this year.”

Over 100 participants took part in the conference, with some parishes hosting small onsite gatherings. One surprise guest was Priscilla from Venezuela who saw a promotion on TikTok and decided to join in.

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