Youth encouraged to know, defend their faith
By Enedelia J. Obregón
About 2,300 youth and youth ministers crowded into the Waco Convention Center to strengthen and share their faith while having fun at the 2013 Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference.
During the MLK holiday weekend, participants met with clergy and religious men and women and attended workshops on how to share their faith, how to be an athlete of faith, justice and charity, packing their faith for college and much more. They experienced the sacrament of reconciliation, were entertained by the band Soundwave and closed with Mass celebrated by Bishop Joe Vásquez.
Sarah Sutton attended the conference with fellow parishioners at Holy Family Parish in Copperas Cove. She learned a lot about defending her faith, which was useful since she has many Protestant friends constantly attacking the church.
"At lunch people always argue about which religion is better," she said.
"It’s a lot of work," Paige French said about defending her faith. "This helps a lot."
Matthew Spears said he has seen kids wear rosaries as jewelry, but didn’t say anything because he didn’t know what to say.
"Being here has helped me learn and be a better person," he said.
The talks and workshops reflected the theme "Porta Fidei," or "Door of Faith," which was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter calling for the Year of Faith that began last October and ends Nov. 24. In the letter, the pontiff noted that the door of faith (Acts 14:27) "is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church."
Keynote speakers were Mark Hart, executive vice president for Life Teen International and author of more than a dozen books and DVD Bible Study Series, "T3;" and Ansel Augustine, associate director for the Youth Office and the coordinator for Black Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, who also has led workshops, conferences and retreats around the country.
Hart shared his story of a flight from Arizona that almost ended in disaster and the promise that he made that changed his life.
"Everybody becomes Catholic" at such moments, Hart said. "People were crossing themselves and holding hands. I put my head down and started to pray –– not like before like in a test you didn’t study for. This was a raw prayer of a desperate man."
He asked for forgiveness and acknowledged he had been too proud to approach God. He also made a promise, "If you do get me out of this, the next chance I get to go to confession, I’ll go and start over."
After landing at a small New Mexico airport, Hart walked inside the terminal and in one corner he saw a Catholic priest.
"I darted toward him and said, ‘Father, I need to go to confession right now.’ And I went for it," Hart said. "It wasn’t like when I was a kid and played word games or justified my sins."
After 20 minutes, the priest lifted his hand and said "The three magic words: ‘I absolve you.’"
"When that happens, you are not sitting with the priest," he said. "You are sitting with Christ." And no sin is too grave to be forgiven.
Hart said too often, people think that their sins are too awful to be forgiven and are embarrassed to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
In his humanity, Christ understands our suffering, Hart said.
"The greatest gift God has given us is that he knows," he said. "We have a God that loves you so much he’d rather die than risk eternity without you. That’s how valuable you are to God and how much you mean to God."
No matter what you do, Hart said, "Jesus is never letting you go."
In one of the workshops, participants also learned about "Faith in Action: Justice and Charity" from Marcos Martínez, youth and young adult program coordinator for the Southwest Regional Office of Catholic Relief Services in San Antonio.
Martínez explained that CRS is the humanitarian organization for the church and challenged the participants by asking what it means to live out their faith as Catholics.
That included a game in which everyone stood up and someone went around the room touching someone else on the shoulder every five seconds. At the end of about a minute, Martínez explained that every person touched and made to sit represented someone who had died of hunger in the world during the time they were playing the game.
"Every five seconds, someone dies from hunger," he said. "That’s 16,000 a day."
Martínez explained that there is enough food in the world. An August 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that 40 percent of food in the U.S. is never eaten, which amounts to $165 billion a year in waste. Food waste occurs in all areas of the food supply chain –– from field to plate, farms to warehouses and buffets to school cafeterias.
Martínez also explained the difference between charity and justice. He encouraged the youth to examine the root causes of poverty and to challenge the status quo.
He said it is important to advocate for just laws and live simply and in socially responsible ways.
One workshop gave tips on how youth can share their faith. Father Alberto Borruel, pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Lockhart, explained the meaning of evangelization and how young people can evangelize by the way they live.
"It’s difficult," he admitted. "Do you do the Sign of the Cross when you eat in the cafeteria? Do you cross yourself when you pass in front of a church?"
He also challenged them to educate themselves on Catholic beliefs –– ranging from the Eucharist to reconciliation and life issues.
"If you don’t know, don’t make it up," he said. "There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’"
And if people mock you, he told the youngsters, remember that Jesus was also mocked. He also encouraged participants to learn to pray the rosary.
"Pray it, don’t wear it. It was never meant to be a piece of jewelry. It’s a tool. A hammer is a tool. Do you ever see anyone wearing it? By itself, a rosary does not serve you if you wear it. But if you pray it and put the mysteries to practice ... it will help you develop a deeper relationship with Christ."