Conference inspires teens on journey of faith

WHITE OAK — More than 600 youth from throughout the Diocese of Charleston left the South Carolina State Youth Conference with a sense of worth and mission.

During the March 12-14 event, speakers explained how Christ paid their ransom and how they should respond to that love.

The conference theme, “Ransom,” was based on Matthew 20:28, “Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jerry White, diocesan director of Youth and Young Adults Ministry, thought it was an important message because so many people do not realize what Christ has done for them.

“All we have to do is say ‘yes’ to God, know we are sinful people and go to him, especially when we need help,” he said.

The messages of purity, chastity and service were entwined in talks given by  Miss South Carolina Jessica Eddins, Jason Evert, Sean Forrest and Ralph Poyo.

These role models gave the teens practical advice for their  journey as Christians.

Musician Sean Forrest ex-

plained how youth can change the world through service.

“You are a small person, but you are part of the gears to make good things happen,” he said. “I have faith in you.”

Catholic Answer apologist Jason Evert is an author and a  popular speaker on chastity. With his youthful looks and language, the 27-year-old Californian connected immediately with the teens.

“Some think that chastity as simply means not having sex,” Evert said. “But that’s mere abstinence: what you can’t do and can’t have. Chastity is more than that. It is about what you can do and have, right now: a chaste lifestyle that brings freedom, respect, peace, and romance without regret.”

Evert hit on the most popular question asked by teenagers, “How far is too far?” when it comes to intimacy before marriage. He discourages that minimalist approach, where the focus is on “How much can I get away with before I offend God?”

He helped the boys see the answer by explaining that each of them has a future bride out there somewhere, and asked what they would consider acceptable behavior from the boy who is dating her now.

Evert believes a new sexual revolution is at hand, as the young are beginning to understand the value of virginity and the number of high school students having premarital sex is diminishing. He said that the human need to be loved and to be desirable is great, but that young people are learning how to distinguish between love (like Christ’s love) and lust (self-gratification).

Not only is this trend beneficial to the spiritual well-being of youth as they develop the proper way to love, but they reap other benefits as well. When a bride and groom are virgins before marriage, research shows that they have a 70 percent greater chance of staying together. Evert thinks this fact is important to those who have experienced the pain of divorce in their families.

“With self-control, you can train yourself in faithfulness,” Evert said. “If you wait, you are loving your future spouse before you have even met them.”

Brother Ray Smith from St. Mary of the Angels Church in Anderson enjoyed Evert’s talk. He liked Evert’s  message that “we all want to love, don’t sell yourself short.” He also liked how Evert used the words “fresh start” in describing people who may have lost their virginity but now want to remain chaste until marriage.

Youth ministers and priests from the diocese assisted during the weekend conference. Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary Church in Green-ville, presented “From Atheist to Priest” and described his own awakening. Msgr. Joseph Roth, vicar general, was present for the whole conference. He oversaw eucharistic adoration, heard confessions and mingled with the future leaders of the church.

During the conference, the youth separated into male and female groups. Miss South Carolina, Jessica Eddins,  who is Catholic, spoke on her platform of abstinence until marriage. Her advice is summarized with the word “respect”: real, evaluate, share, purpose, expectation, caution and temple. She said that the girls needed to understand what real love is, evaluate their relationships, share their gifts, know God’s purpose, have realistic expectations, approach relationships with caution and remember that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”

“Her talk really made sense,” said Leigh Howell of St. Andrew Church in Clemson. “She said that when we are not feeling good about ourselves that we should take some time and think about the gifts God has given [us], and how you can better serve others.”    

Ralph Poyo, a father of five girls, gave an open talk to his all-male audience, candidly speaking of his own former confusion about real love and his addiction to pornography that started when he was a boy and was later healed in his adulthood.

Even though he was a popular high school athlete, he had self-doubts.

“I felt if people really knew who I was, they would not like me and that I would never be loved,” he said. “It was a lie.”

Poyo explained that God is saying to everyone, “Be you, but not alone. Be you in me.” Poyo warned that if they try to find happiness on their own, they will buy lies and jump from one bandwagon to the next.

Joe Maggio, youth minister from St. Mary Magdalene Church in Simpsonville, said, “The conference was very well done. Everyone came back on fire.”