Youth conference grows, inspires students with faith, hope, love

By Maureen Smith
VICKSBURG – Young people from more than a dozen parishes spent the first weekend in February exploring Faith, Hope and Love during the Diocese’s of Jackson’s Youth Conference (DCYC). Participation was up from last year, with 130 youth attending.
The theme came from the readings for the weekend and each day explored one of the aspects. Abbey Schuhmann, Coordinator of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Jackson, plans the event with a team of youth ministers from across the diocese. “This (theme) was simple, basic, but we still felt like it was powerful and relevant to our teens,” she explained.
Keynote speaker Brian Butler led sessions on each concept. The teens got to have a dance party, participate in adoration, reconciliation, Mass and activities such as a ‘selfie scavenger hunt’ in which they had to take group selfies with particular people associated with the conference. Musical duo Greg and Lizzie led praise and worship and guest speakers including Greenwood St. Francis’ Derrick Faucheaux and his fiancé Mary Upchurch as well as Ray Lacy, youth director for the Diocese of Biloxi. Fathers Nick Adam and Aaron Williams led a young men’s session on vocation while Dominican Sister Kelly Moline led a young women’s session.
“In our talk with the men I wanted to help them to recognize that they absolutely have a call from the Lord, whether it is priesthood or married life is still to be determined, but to live out of the knowledge that God is calling them to greatness in Him, not just to worldly success,” said Father Adam.
Sister Kelly expressed a similar idea. “I wanted then to understand that everyone has a ‘big v’ vocation – whether that be married life, single life or consecrated religious life, but they also have a ‘small v’ vocation – to be the best doctor, nurse, mom or mechanic there ever was,” she said. She also urged the young women to pursue a life of listening and prayer, pointing out that “often the people around you, those who love you best, are the ones who may spot your vocation before you do,” she added.
This was the first conference for the newly-formed youth group at Forest St. Michael Parish. Diemmi Pham said she appreciated that members of her parish helped raise the money needed for teens to attend. “I didn’t know what to expect coming here. I was kind of expecting just praying, you know, and bonding as a parish, but the activities that we did together—yeah we bonded as a parish, but it took it to another level, so I got out of this making new friendships and strengthening our relationship with each other,” she said.
Many teens said they enjoy the chance to interact with a large group of other Catholics. “I actually live in Carrolton, but I go to school in Grenada and we don’t have a lot of Catholics so we are this small part of where we are from so I wanted to meet people and make some friendships. I’m a really big introvert so this is a way for me to expand my circle and just have new experience,” said Amelia Ferguson of Winona Sacred Heart Parish.
Merideth Johnson echoed the sentiment, saying “I felt like I needed something spiritual because a lot of gatherings are just for a concert or something — this is something different to go to and gather with a bunch of Catholic youth.”
This is the second year for Elvis Scott of Greenville Sacred Heart Parish to attend. “Last year we came and it was a wonderful experience so it was something I felt like participating in again,” he said. “To me this year is more of a spot-on connection with them teaching us to have trust in God and in Jesus. I never thought about what they were talking about yesterday – making a connection with Jesus – and it brought me closer to him because I didn’t have that in my mind before,” he said.
“I hope that our youth got a taste of the wider Church here in Mississippi,” said Father Adam. “Sometimes we think of our own parish as the ‘end-all-be-all’ of Catholicism, but the outstanding program that the diocesan Youth Office provided showed our young people how dynamic the young Church can be,” he added.
Many of this year’s new features came from evaluations turned in after last year’s event. “We take those evaluations seriously,” said Schuhmann. “We are just getting started with this conference,” she added.
One of last year’s special guests – a giant stuffed sloth – was joined by Llou the Llama. The plush animals are prizes for the youth groups who win different competitions throughout the weekend to take home. Only time will tell how large the menagerie will get.

More conference pictures click here.