Students from across the diocese gather for worship, prayer and fellowship at annual Diocesan Youth Conference
On April 1-3, nearly 250 teens from across the diocese came together for the annual Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC) at the Valdosta Rainwater Center.
This year’s theme, “In the Desert,” was based on the scripture passage in Isaiah 43:19, “In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers”, and focused on three topics: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Each topic was touched upon by Dr. Alex Gotay, a former marine turned dynamic, nationwide teen and young adult speaker. His talks were filled with humor, energy and passion for the faith, and were highly praised by students. “He’s been one of the best ones I’ve heard,” said a senior who has been to DYC once before, but has also participated in other youth conferences.
“He’s very relatable,” remarked another student from Stratford Academy in Macon. “I’m a military brat myself, so a lot of the things he’s said I can relate to.”
In addition to prayer workshops and information sessions, students also had the opportunity to participate in various almsgiving workshops, including: stuffing “blessing bags” with toiletries to give to local people through the St. Francis Center; prepping bags of dry goods for Catholic Charities; and making and packing sandwiches for patrons of the local soup kitchen.
“I really like how they give us examples of how we can go out into the community and help as Catholics,” said one student from Veterans High School in Kathleen, who helped package dry goods.
“A lot of the Catholics in my community aren’t as active as the ones here, so it’s really nice,” commented another student from Furlow Charter School in Americus. “The thing that has stood out most to me is that there are a lot of Catholic kids here that actually know their stuff.”
On Saturday, students celebrated Mass with Bishop Stephen D. Parkes, who spent some time after lunch answering questions they had written on post-it notes. Students also had the opportunity to contribute to question boards throughout the weekend, posting answers to questions such as, “What does it mean to you to be Catholic?”, “How can the Church serve you right now”, and “How would you describe the church in two words?”
Some of their responses included, respectively: “To be Catholic is to be wholly and completely in love with Jesus with your heart, mind and soul. And it’s a beautiful intimate love given to us in the Eucharist!”; “offer assistance in vocational discernment”; and “merciful and welcoming.”
Students also had the opportunity to shop and interact with different vendors and groups who were present, such as Saints and Shamrocks, Net Ministries, Catholic Relief Services, the Benedictines, Franciscan Friars, Sisters of Mercy, etc.
“I really like meeting new people and seeing the different groups and ministries here, like the friars, who you don’t usually get to see,” said one student. “It’s been fun talking to them and getting to ask questions.”
While students had time for quiet prayer, reflection and Confession throughout the conference, they also enjoyed corporate worship with music from The Scally Brothers, a dynamic duo from Toledo, Ohio. “I’m a big music person, so it really speaks to my soul,” one student remarked. She explained that one of the reasons she enjoys DYC is because it provides an opportunity to worship in a different way.
“People think that worship is sitting in a room really quietly, but it can be a really joyous, loud, big, energetic thing,” she said. “I feel like a lot of teenagers don’t know that and that’s why they’re not excited about their faith.”
The opportunity to meet new people and spend time in fellowship also seems to draw people to DYC. “I was really excited to have a chance to meet other Catholics and high schoolers who share my faith outside of my town and small community,” one student remarked. “It has provided a really good opportunity and experience to connect with other people, God and myself.”
Caroline Ebberwein, the Director for Youth Ministry who is in charge of organizing DYC, noted that it’s the one event that enables all young Catholics in our diocese to worship together and experience the universality of the Catholic faith. “It is so important to bring teens together in this way so that they can witness that Christ is alive in our young Church and see how he wants to use their fire to change the world,” she said. “My hope every year is that young people come together from parishes all around our wide and diverse diocese and leave knowing that they have a place here as participating members of the Diocese of Savannah.”
Indeed, the strong sense of community was widely regarded by many students. “For being here for the first time, the community is very welcoming and has received me with open arms,” said one student from Pierce County High School in Blackshear. “I’d definitely come back.”
The following piece was published in the May 2022 issue of Southern Cross magazine.