By Kathryne Sparaco, contributing writer
Youth from all over the Diocese of Syracuse came together on November 19th for the Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference held at Sacred Heart Church in Cicero. The 315 participants hailed from five different diocesan counties: Broome, Cortland, Oneida, Onondaga, and Oswego. The conference, open to youth in grades 7 through 12, offered participants opportunities for fun, fellowship, prayer, and most importantly, the opportunity to encounter Christ.
Following what became known as the Synod on Young People in 2018, the Vatican requested that every diocese host an annual event on the Feast of Christ the King to allow youth to come together with the purpose of encountering Christ. When Bishop Douglas J. Lucia approached the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Discipleship about organizing such an event, director Bob Walters was excited to get the ball rolling. The last time the diocese offered an event of this nature was in 2015, and Walters was ready to get everyone back together.
“I didn’t realize how great the need was to gather as a Diocese,” Walters said. “It’s important for all the teens to connect with one another and see they’re not alone in their faith; they’re part of something bigger. But it’s also great for the youth ministers to have an opportunity to connect with one another,” he explained. “I was so pleased to see how many groups came from different parts of the diocese.”
Brittney McCanney, Confirmation Coordinator at Sacred Heart, agreed that it was exciting to see the teens from her group interact with other teens from around the diocese.
“It was great bringing all the parishes together and seeing new friendships form,” she shared.
Mass with Bishop Lucia kicked off the day. In his homily, Bishop reflected on how far his faith has grown since he was a young altar boy who would have never anticipated becoming a bishop. He urged the youth to keep pursuing God, even if they feel distant or unworthy when things are not going well.
“God comes to us and meets us not because we have it all together; not because we’re not sinners. He meets us because He wants to be with us wherever we are in life. In our good times and in our struggles. If you feel like there is no place to go, God wants us to know it’s not true. He is with us always,” he said. “God writes straight with crooked lines. Bring God your crooked line.”
International speaker and musician Steve Angrisano spoke throughout the day, using his music and inspirational talks to urge teens to pursue God always and not be ashamed of their faith.
“He delivered a power message on claiming our faith,” McCanney said. “The youth were captivated by his talks and inspired by his music.”
Sacred Heart’s gym was filled with a variety of inflatables for the teens to enjoy between talks, as well as a caricature artist, photo booth, and Chick Fil A for lunch. All participants also had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament on Reconciliation with a variety of priests from around the diocese on hand. The day ended with time spent in Eucharistic Adoration.
John Sheridan, Youth Minister from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, could tell the youth got the message that they were personally loved by God and was excited to see all the teens from his group wanting to go to confession during their break time.
“As a parent and youth minister, my one hope is that these youth invite Jesus into their lives,” he shared. “Events like this help us to stop and consider just that: where is Jesus in my life? How can I invite him in and get closer? Do I want him in my life?” He was very grateful for the opportunity provided by the diocese. “We are so blessed in Syracuse to have such an amazing office of youth and young adults, as well as priestly leadership.”
Lizzy Wilson attended the conference with the Youth Group from Holy Cross in DeWitt. She enjoyed the whole day, but one thing stood out to her.
“My favorite part of the day was adoration. It was really amazing to be able to worship Jesus with such a big group of young people and the music really made the experience very powerful for me,” she shared.
Feedback like that certainly proved that the day was a success according to Walters. “The kids had fun, but more importantly they also made a connection to their faith. That was the important thing. That was the goal.”
Editor’s note: Kathryne Sparaco serves as administrative assistant in several different offices in the Diocesan Chancery.