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YouCon asks who are the Ezekiels in your life

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The rain exploded with a mighty crash as YouCon: Rise began. Keynote speaker Mark Hart said he saw more rain coming from the airport to St. Gregory the Great Parish in Williamsville then in the last six months at his Phoenix home. But the weather did not dampen the spirits of the 160 high schoolers who gathered for the two-day youth conference held Aug. 5-6. 

Keynote speaker Mark Hart tells his discovery of Scripture. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

The big talks and small breakouts centered around the Ezekiel 37 Bible passage, which speaks of the resurrection of dry bones. An apt topic after two years of isolation and uncertainty in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

“This is why we’re here. You’ve probably seen a crazy couple of years. For most of you, I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve seen. I don’t know what you’ve experienced, but I guess like for the rest of us, it’s been a hard couple of years…. We’re going to plant our feet with this experience and we’re going to rise. Not of our own will, but because of the Lord’s,” explained Adam Jarosz, director of youth ministry for St. Greg’s.

On Friday night, Hart shared how he came to know Scripture. In a colorful story, he told how his parents punished him and his brother after having a lightsaber duel by making them read the Bible. He randomly opened up to the passage of, “Put on the armor of God that can withstand the tactics of the evil one.”

Teens take some time to journal their thoughts. (Photo by Nicole Dzimira)

The self-proclaimed Bible Geek wasn’t hooked just yet. He told the crowd he never read Scripture or cared about confirmation as a teen. But, when he heard about the baptism of Jesus, he heard himself in the story.

“It’s easier to go through life saying, ‘I’m good. I don’t need to know God or follow God. He’s always going to be there. He’ll be there when someone I love is dying. I can fall on my knees. He’ll be there,’” Hart said. “It takes a lot of courage and a lot of humility, no matter what age you are to actually say there is a God and it’s not me.”

Often, he explained, people think they control their own lives and write their own stories, rather than rely on God, the author of life.

“We try to control our stories and control our own lives and become our own God. But we come to grips that there is a God and it’s not you, everything changes,” Hart said. He added that people are miserable because they seek validation through the wrong venues, such as Facebook likes.

On Saturday, Hart returned to the stage, to tell the parable of the Paralytic who was carried by his four friends to see Jesus. Hart asked his audience if they have four people in their lives who will help them see Jesus, who care enough about their soul to call them out, who will pray with them, who’ll ask how you’re doing and mean it.

Fun and games always come with Youth Ministry. Teens play a round of gaga ball in between speaker sessions at YouCon. (Photo by Patrick J. Buechi)

“If you don’t have four friends like that, you may need new ones,” he said. “We all need those four Ezekiels in our life, who, when we get tired, we get scared, we get busy, we get sloth, will call us out.”

Then he asked, “Are you that kind of friend to somebody else?”

The rest of the day was filled with breakout sessions dealing with vocations, and being men and women of Christ.

“I’ve definitely felt the presence of God here. He was in to room when everyone was speaking or praying,” said Alex Ornella, one of the participants. “I’m thinking more in depth about God and His impact on modern life. It gives us a whole new meaning coming here and seeing so many great people come up and talk to the young people about the impact of God on our lives.”

Ava Wanat came as a confirmation requirements and found a welcoming spirit.

“I’ve seen and heard a lot of connecting with God and knowing that a lot of the decisions in your life or the experiences that you come across are God writing His story for you,” the 15-year-old said.

“I think the talks are really moving. You can get a lot out of being here,” said Sarah Fitzpatrick.

Teens from St. John Vianney in Orchard Park and St. John’s in Rochester also attended.

Music was provided by Mike and the Lumberjacks.

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