The young church: DCYC seeks to encourage, empower teens

By Alison Tate
Guest Columnist

At the end of January, as I stepped out onto the stage to welcome the 2,800 participants who gathered for our annual Diocesan Catholic Youth Conference (DCYC), I was overwhelmed by the presence and energy of the teens as they gathered to learn and celebrate our shared faith. I also remembered why we continue to gather as the young church of the Diocese of Austin. 
DCYC is certainly a unique event, one of the largest diocesan youth events in the country, yet our reasons for the work of ministry with youth at every level and at any scale – family, parish, community, diocese – are the same. We are called to empower teens in their relationship with Jesus Christ, encourage their participation in their faith and in the church community, and cultivate the healthy personal and spiritual growth of each of the young people present in our parishes. 
These three goals form our young people into leaders who can share their faith confidently and ultimately have the potential to transform the communities from which they come. Standing on the stage, for those few minutes, I thought about what has become of past DCYC participants as well as the particular teens singing, dancing and learning at DCYC this year. Will each be a voice of positive influence in their families, schools and cities now, as well as in their future colleges, careers and relationships as emerging adults? 
Empowerment, participation and growth are the three main goals often cited in Catholic youth ministry. Throughout the DCYC weekend, 90 parish groups experienced our call to these three things presented through the lens of the theme of “Restless.” Our keynote speakers Father Joseph Espaillat, Sister of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Miraim Heidland, and Michael “Gomer” Gormley led us through a progression of reflections on how God is working in our lives and that in our relationship with him, we are called to communion, called to love and called to serve. They challenged us with the question of, “Have we invited God into our lives? What place have we made for him?” 
The weekend was packed with prayer, reflection and fellowship. Our workshop speakers shared experiences and presentations on Scripture, discernment, missionary discipleship, the sacraments, mercy, the struggle of apathy and our call to live as men and women of God. 
With the help of many of our parish priests, more than 900 youth received the sacrament of reconciliation, we celebrated Mass twice over the weekend, and we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours each morning and evening. In his homily at Mass on Sunday, Bishop Daniel Garcia reminded us that God’s love is transformative and sometimes comes to us in unexpected ways. If we accept this, we can love as God loves us: free of judgment, but in truth. 
This internal to external transformation continues long after and moves far beyond our weekend event. The purpose of DCYC is not to gather the most teens, or have the most entertaining speakers, but to champion and encourage the youth ministry efforts of each of our parishes in the Diocese of Austin. These are the communities that DCYC participants come from and return to, and it is within these parish communities that we as Catholics encounter Jesus Christ in the Eucharist each Sunday. This is the source of our ongoing conversion and our relationship with Jesus Christ. 
Youth ministry rejects the values of our increasingly isolating secular society as it prioritizes relational ministry with young people. It recognizes that everyone in our community has a role to play in providing a foundation for a teen’s growing faith. Our responses to these opportunities are sometimes large and sometimes small but are all a gift to our church. DCYC is a whirlwind, a snapshot, a short celebration of our diocesan church, but the backbone of that is the continual effort made at each parish in walking with our youth as they are encouraged in their personal and spiritual development, become active participants in their faith, and learn how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.