An annual convention for Catholic high schools is held to show teens that there is a community of faith they belong to and can celebrate with, diocesan youth director Liz Tingquist said.
High school students from across the state gathered for the first time in two years at the Robinson Center in Little Rock for the 70th Annual Catholic Youth Convention April 8-10.
“It’s an opportunity for them to have a spiritual experience with the Lord and hear motivational speakers who appear at international and national youth events,” Tingquist said. “They can be themselves and not have to put on a facade. They have the opportunity to see other kids and adults live their faith and don’t have to worry what other people will think if they choose to express their faith in a way that's joy filled. It’s also an end of the year hurrah to carry them into the summer when they may not be experiencing community as much as they are during the school year.”
About 250 students and chaperones from 19 parishes attended this year, much lower than pre-COVID numbers, according to Tingquist. They listened to talks based on the theme, “Strengthen Each Other.” Keynote speaker Jackie Francois Angel, a singer-songwriter, speaker and youth minister from Dallas, delivered a powerful message on how to “be a light to the world.”
“The devil wants you to forget who you are,” she said, as she explained to her audience that only God and his love can fill the void that many have tried and failed to fill with alcohol, drugs and sex. She explained that the same Holy Spirit that lifted Jesus’ apostles is available to lift and inspire them.
“The Eucharist makes us a walking tabernacle of life,” she said before adding St. Maximilian Kolbe’s quote, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”
The three-day convention included several icebreakers to help the teens get comfortable with each other so that they could be open to sharing their faith and inspiring each other.
The diocesan Youth Advisory Council (YAC) led their peers in praise and worship music, games and skits, including a moving portrayal of a student who was considering suicide before offering her troubles to Jesus who took away her pain and confusion.
Convention attendees also had the opportunity to take part in the sacrament of reconciliation, a Mass, a banquet and awards presentation. Steve and Lisa Dearasaugh received the Diocesan Service Medal from Bishop Anthony B. Taylor for 30 years of youth ministry at Immaculate Heart of Mary in North Little Rock and as members of our Adult Advisory Council for the Diocese.
Attendees were asked to donate $5 each to the Terry Skelton Fund, which provides funds for youth who need financial assistance to attend diocesan events, and donate clothes to Jericho Way, a homeless day resource center operated by Depaul USA.
Gillian Lachowsky, YAC member from St. Mary Church in Altus, said, “We talk about real life things and try to bring God in a more relatable way than just talking about him.”
With the convention canceled in 2020 and 2021, most participants had never experienced the annual convention. Current seniors were in ninth grade during the last convention in 2019.
Lachowsky, a junior, said she had been looking forward to it because she had “only heard great things about them” from previous attendees. Being able to share their faith in a setting away from societal pressures and secular popular culture is the key to its success, she said.
“It’s nice to be able to meet in person,” she said. “These kids love them, and I’m really excited to be here and to help put it on. I’m hoping to just let these kids know that there are other kids who like Jesus, too. I feel like it’s really hard for kids our age to understand that they’re not the only ones that are Catholic. Oftentimes, when you look around our parishes, it’s all older people, and it can be hard to relate. After a while, you can get in slumps. So, conventions like this are a good kick start to make sure that you’re staying on that right track.”
Luke Parker, a sophomore who attends Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock, agreed.
“I feel like it’s a really great way to gather up people of the same faith,” he said. “I feel like we’re by ourselves a lot. We sort of get used to that, but it’s good to get into groups and share our faith so that we know that we’re not the only ones going through what we’re facing. We have other people to talk to and share experiences. At first, it can be a little awkward, but I find as the convention has gone on, it’s become a lot more comfortable. You feel a sense of gathering. I’d highly recommend it. The speakers have been amazing and reassured us in our place and our faith.”
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