By MARK MOSSA
“Pizza Love” was the buzzword for 1997’s Diocesan Youth Conference, March 7-9. Keynote speaker, Mary Beth Nonacci, challenged the 350 youth in attendance asking: “Do you love pizza like you love your family? Do you love God like you love pizza?”
It wasn’t just the effects of a bad case of the munchies either. Bonacci was emphasizing the importance of “real love” which is strong, committed, and grounded in Christ, over “pizza love” which she aptly described by her biographical sketch: “Mary Beth Bonacci loves pizza. When she eats her fill, though, she feeds the rest to the dog or throws it out. That’s pizza love.”
Her address touched on friendships, relationship, dating, sexuality, and marriage which echoed the theme of the conference: “Zeroing in on Christ: Friendships Built on Faith.” The weekend at Camp Thunderbird in Clover was a celebration of friendship. Each year, young people from throughout the diocese gather for the event to get acquainted with old friends and make new ones.
Jason Carrero of St. Joseph’s in Columbia is a high school senior who was disappointed that this would be his last conference.
“This is my third year at the conference,” he said. “Each year it seems to improve. I get to see people I’ve met at past conferences, make new friends, and it really strengthens my faith.”
Attendees also enjoy the opportunity to see that there are a lot more Catholic young people than those they find in their schools. Liz Magee of Prince of Peace in Taylors observed enthusiastically, “All the people you see here are Catholic. You’re a part of a big group, you feel important.”
The teens also have an opportunity to attend a number of workshops during the conference. Besides Bonacci’s keynote address, they took advantage of presentations such as “Friendship With God,” “Friendship With Acquaintances (Reaching out to others),” “Friendship With Others,” and “Friendship With Yourself.”
“We all had fun, we learned a lot,” commented youth leader Carol Concienne of St. Paul’s in Spartanburg. It was her first time attending the conference. “We have many ideas to bring back with us, and we bonded as a group.”
Hank Chardos gave a presentation on the Midlands N.A.I.L.S. program, a summer outreach work experience for teens. Approximately 60 youth joined in last year’s N.A.I.L.S. efforts on Johns Island, and Chardos plans a second site in the Columbia area this summer.
Bonacci followed up her keynote address with a question-and-answer session which drew a number of youth despite having to compete with free-time activities such as basketball, volleyball and a ropes course. She gave practical advice grounded in Church teachings on questions mainly concerned with marriage, dating and sex.
Most of the youth joined in or watched sports and other activities on Saturday afternoon followed by dinner and a Mass offered by Father Tim Lijewski of St. Augustine’s in Union. All the participants joined in the celebration which featured music by Alan Davis & Friends as well as a choir made up of conference participants.
Father Tim encouraged everyone to do what they could to make a difference in the world, reaching out to others in friendship built on faith. He later joined the young people for what many consider the highlight of the weekend — Saturday night’s dance.
“The dance was the main thing that brought us together,” observed Joshua Beckler of St. Mary’s in Greenville. “I liked that the priest was dancing.”
Mary Kennedy Hudgens of St. Paul’s in Spartanburg also enjoyed it.
“The dance was actually fun, we didn’t think it would be fun,” she said. “I liked meeting all the youth leaders.”
After breakfast on Sunday morning, everyone gathered for the closing ceremonies. Ribbons were awarded to the winning sports teams, among which was the first place basketball team featuring hoopster Father Tim.
The outstanding adult youth leader awards were presented to Danner Thompson of St. James in Conway for the Pee Dee Deanery, Ron Anderson of St. Peter’s in Columbia for the Midlands Deanery, Gina Gant of Holy Cross in Pickens for the Piedmont Deanery; and Steve Cote of St. John the Beloved in Summerville for the Coastal Deanery.
Outstanding youth from each deanery received scholarships from the Knights of Columbus including: Cristy Henry of St. Joseph’s in Columbia for the Midlands Deanery; Christina Stokes of Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant for the Coastal Deanery; Robin Dietz of St. Michael’s in Garden City for the Pee Dee Deanery; and Mike Hazel of St. Luke’s in Easley for the Piedmont Deanery.
The members of the Diocesan Youth Council were also recognized for their service to the young people of the diocese and for planning this year’s conference. The teens agreed that it was a weekend of faith and friendship that lived up to its theme. They left with promises to see one another again next year, if not next week.
Amanda Jackson of Prince of Peace in Taylors summed it all up in one sentence: “It was great to make new friends, like God love, not pizza love.”