Youth Conference remembers the past, offers signs of eternal hope
Teens taking part in Buffalo’s second virtual youth conference got a feeling for how much things have changed in 20 years, and how much they have stayed the same. The conference, which held three distinct parts, centered itself around the Eucharist, with the theme of “Through Him, With Him, In Him.”
The first part of the March 5 event saw the opening of a time capsule at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo.
In 2002, to commemorate 50 years of diocesan youth conventions, more than 50 parishes and groups contributed items for a time capsule during the welcoming ceremony of that year’s convention. It was designed to be opened 20 years later.
“Remember, this convention was six months after 9/11. It was a challenging and fearful time,” said Jessica York, from Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora. “This time capsule contains the lives of young people at that moment in time. They wanted to offer a glimpse of their lives and young Catholics in 2002 and offer their hopes and dreams to you, the young Church of today.”
Items preserved inside included parish T-shirts, many signed, that were worn at the convention. Teens from Blessed Sacrament in Tonawanda offered a binder full of reflections of what their youth group meant to them. A softball from St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parish in Cheektowaga commemorated their co-ed softball championship in 2001. St. Mark’s in Kendall contributed a lion as a symbol of St. Mark the Evangelist. OLV in Lackawanna contributed a statue of Servant of God Nelson Baker. “Perhaps in a future time capsule, Father Baker will be known as St. Nelson Baker,” York said.
A note from the youth group at St. Paul’s in Kenmore showed that those who attended the conference 20 years ago still had hope despite living in heartbreaking times.
“History will most likely be reflected in the year of 2002 as being a horrific and tragic year in the making. Hopefully, the events of September 11, will not be repeated and peace will prevail.
We feel that the smallest things like friendships and faith will survive forever, even if we don’t. If Jesus’ word of love can survive 2002 years so far, His love will continue forever.”
The piece de resistance was a gold cloth signed by all the conventioneers that was used as an altar cloth at the closing Mass that year.
The second part of the conference saw Bishop Michael W. Fisher celebrate Mass at the cathedral, concelebrated by Msgr. Francis Weldgen, who served as director of the diocesan Youth Department from 1972-1985.
The bishop welcomed the teens, thanking them for their youthful spirit, their commitment, and the sense of hope they bring to our Church and the diocese.
“I think your rally today with this theme blends well with our journey of renewal and our call to be a church that is listening and a church that is gathering together once again. We are so in need of communion and unity with our God and with one another today,” Bishop Fisher said.
The next portion of the evening took place at Immaculate Conception. Some took part in person, others joined via Zoom. After pizza with the bishop, the teens gathered to hear from Steve Angrisano, a singer/storyteller, who spoke of a God-shaped vacuum that exists in the heart of all people. He said all the sin in his life has come from trying to fill that emptiness with physical goods.
Angrisano told a story about his daughter, who, as a child, had a great fear of car washes. When she was 3, he had to lie when they entered the steel tunnel, saying they were giving the car a bath. “It did not work. She figured out that car getting a bath was daddy code for going into the car wash,” he said.
When his daughter started screaming, Angrisano held her and looked into her eyes.
“She stopped crying. It was like a miracle from God,” he said.
“As long as I’m looking at you and you’re looking at me, I can tell everything is OK,” she seemed to say.
“That is truthfully the way we all are,” Angrisano said. “If you panic, they panic. If you’re calm, they will be. I believe the only reason we’re sitting here today is because we believe in a God who’s bigger, who created us in His own image. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re an accident.”
Catherine Loniewski, of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Depew, is familiar with Angrisano from the National Catholic Youth Conference.
“When he mentioned the story of his daughter, that stuck out to me because in the same way his daughter was focused on him and calm through all that. It occurred to me that when you focus on God and how He’s a parent to you, a father, that’s why we call Him father, because He protects us,” she said. “When we focus on Him, everything around us that distracts us from our purpose that we don’t need to be afraid of, might as well not exist, because we have our protector right there in front of us.”
Neil Ball, from Immaculate Conception, came to meet the bishop.
“I really like the message that was produced today. He seems really down to earth,” he said.
After hearing the bishop at Mass, the keynote talk, and witness talks from his peers, Ball realizes that, “being holy and being part of Christ is not just having to pray every second, every moment, be on watch all the time. It’s letting God once in a while be in your heart and in your mind and in your soul and just taking time to be with God for a bit.”