By Maureen Smith
VICKSBURG – More than 100 young people from across the Diocese of Jackson spent the weekend of Feb. 3-4 getting fired up about their Catholic faith at the diocesan youth conference. The theme of the conference, Ablaze, came from the weekend itself. Coordinator for Youth Ministry Abbey Schuhmann told the Vicksburg Press that when she and her planning committee set the conference for the weekend of the Presentation of the Lord, the theme fell into place.
“The feast represents our baptism and how at our baptism we are presented with a candle as the symbol of the light of Christ. We have that responsibility as baptized Christians to spread the light of Christ. So the theme Ablaze came about,” Schuhmann told the Post.
Catholic singer and songwriter PJ Anderson gave the keynote talks concert-style. “My favorite part was when they were playing the music and we got to go in front of the stage and dance with everyone,” said Mina Leffler of Jackson St. Richard Parish. She and fellow parishioner Jordan Muse said Anderson encouraged the teens to be compassionate. “The message I heard is that you should be nice to everyone and not judge anyone because God’s always listening and you don’t know what they are going through,” said Muse.
Dayonnia Conway came with two other members of Camden Sacred Heart. She also loved the music and appreciated the effort to build her faith. She would encourage other youth to come to the next convention “Anything involving God is good and they are trying to build your relationship with God.”
Father Rusty Vincent and Jeff Cook led breakout sessions for the youth. Christopher Johnson with Natchez St. Mary Basilica said the breakouts gave him some food for thought. “I learned that I should follow God and listen to his calling because everyone has a calling,” said Johnson.
Mia Gamberi, also from St. Mary, enjoyed when Anderson related his talk to real-life situations. “He related sports and faith life and that you can have a balance. You don’t have to be boring, you can still have a life and it can be faith-based,” she said.
In addition to Mass, the kids had the opportunity for Reconciliation, adoration, a candlelight procession and blessing and the blessing of the throats for the feast of St. Blaise. Seminarians Mark Shoffner and Andrew Bowden attended the whole weekend. Other seminarians came for the closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Joseph Kopacz. Shoffner said he was glad the students got to participate in other kinds of sacraments and liturgy to see the rich prayer life of the church.
Deacon Jeff Artigues brought his youth group from Starkville St. Joseph Parish. He said Anderson even used the symbol of light to relate the conference theme to actions the teens can take.
“Something that stuck out when PJ told his story about when his wife was in the hospital. When his wife told her version of the story, she said she saw his light go out. I thought about our kids and we talked about it in our small group. We need to see our own light and take care of it. Sometimes we don’t have great perspective on ourselves and maybe we don’t see other people and their lights, but we can be that person carrying a light – if it’s helping a friend with depression or lack of faith or whatever it may be. If you are a true friend you can say to your friend, you don’t need to be doing those things or maybe light that light for them,” said Deacon Artigues.
He said he enjoys these conferences both for the faith-building and the friend-building, saying he hopes the teens will make friends they may see again in college where they can continue to support one another on their faith journeys.
By Maureen Smith