It’s early on a Saturday morning in Little Rock and Youth Advisory Council members are straggling into their first obligation of the day. It’s a rehearsal for a skit they’ll soon perform before 400 or so attendees at the 2019 Diocese of Little Rock’s Catholic Youth Convention, an event held April 5-7 in Little Rock.
The YAC members, denoted by their dark blue T-shirts, are groggy. Last night’s program wrapped late and as conference counselors of sorts, they spent extra time helping ensure attendees dispersed to their rooms in a quiet and orderly manner, then sat for a mandatory debrief. Throw in some clean up and unwind time among roommates and morning dawned very early indeed.
But this is what being on YAC is all about and all agree the extra effort and time are worth it.
“This event is, as far as a Church thing, the event of the season,” said Rachel Ridgeway, 17, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock and a senior at Mount St. Mary Academy. “We work really, really hard on this event all throughout the year. Especially for me, being my second year, it’s really close to my heart because it’s my last year.”
As with all statewide events sponsored by the diocesan Catholic Youth Ministry Office, YAC members play an integral role in virtually every element here, but most visibly as living witnesses to their fellow teens on the importance and relevance of Christ in daily life. At the state convention, YAC members are everywhere — singing, acting, praying and serving to inspire their fellow teens to a deeper relationship with their faith.
“After years of sitting out in the crowd and watching these events, there’s something else to say about being behind the scenes and really seeing what the leadership team is doing that’s touching the hearts of all who come here,” said first-year YAC member Noah Ketter, a high school junior and member of Sacred Heart Church in Charleston.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from the seniors is just to have faith and trust in God and everything will be all right.”
Having such hands-on participation by YAC lends a youthfulness and radiant joy to the state convention, attended by Catholic youth from around the state. Uplifting music weaves through live and multi-media presentations, speakers, private and group prayer opportunities and capped off with Mass on Sunday.
It’s something that leaves an impression even on seasoned youth ministers such as Jesse Manibusan, a San Francisco-based speaker and musician who’s been a keynote speaker for the Arkansas event four times.
“Faith communities are all very different and unique,” he said. “This one here, there’s such evidence of joy and faith. I’ve done other places around the country and around the world where it’s a lot colder, people are more reluctant to step up and to step out and share their faith.”
“I don’t know what it is but there’s something about Little Rock where there’s just unabashed delight for expressing joy and jumping in. Just being here is so refreshing.”
Adult chaperones, guests and casual onlookers also absorb the young people’s energy. When Bishop Anthony B. Taylor took the stage Saturday to exhort the youth to, “to keep the Church young,” he did so to thunderous applause, multiple selfies and more than one high five. Bishop Taylor, obviously delighted by the audience, challenged young people to make a difference in their home parishes to improve the Church and minister to their peers.
The event had a visible reenergizing effect on the youth in attendance, including new YAC member Lucero Chena, a member of St. James Church in Searcy. She said the camaraderie and faith of the YAC members made her want to take a more active role in diocesan events.
“This summer was one of the first events that I had ever been to,” said Chena, 16. “I saw this group when I went in with my youth group and they just all came and greeted me and it was really cool to see friends that were so close, like a family.”
“Our church didn’t have that, we have a very small youth group, and I wanted to be a part of that. They started talking to me and I just got to know them as huge family of disciples that just wanted to get closer to God.”
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