Youth conference emphasizes ‘Now is the Time’ to seek God’s love

WHITE OAK — It’s not every Sunday that you hear an electric guitar and driving rock-and-roll percussion during the processional at Mass.

But then again, not every liturgy is held for the annual Diocese of Charleston’s Youth Conference. This year’s event, which ran from March 10-12, had the theme “Now is the Time!” based on the Scripture passage: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

The conference attracted more than 625 youth and adults from parishes around the state, and treated them to a weekend that included inspirational speakers, comedy acts, group projects, sports and time for spiritual reflection and prayer. All the activities stressed the importance of seeking God’s love and guidance right now, instead of postponing that search for the future or a time of crisis.

Everyone gathered in the main auditorium at White Oak on Sunday morning, standing and singing enthusiastically along with contemporary hymns that were played by the official “house band” Wannabe Stephen, a quartet of musicians from around the diocese. Bishop Robert J. Baker and Msgr. Joseph Roth celebrated the Mass.

During his homily, Bishop Baker talked about how appropriate the conference’s theme was to the season of Lent because it is a time for Catholics to focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and his real presence during the Mass.

“It’s a time to remember that God only works in the concrete,” the bishop said. “Often we’re thinking about the past or the future, and we’re so anxious we forget about God in the present.”

Bishop Baker also reminded the young people of the importance of stewardship, of giving time, talent and treasure to others.

“We learn about this through the idea of ‘agape’ love, which means giving without expecting anything back,” he said. “Jesus is the ultimate steward through his crucifixion. We all have hurdles in our lives, but we have to focus on what may be preventing us from loving God or loving our neighbor.”

Before the Mass, the young people also heard from guest speaker Lisa Millitello, a Columbia resident and member of St. Joseph Church who regularly travels to youth events, talking about difficulties she has faced in her life and how realizing God’s love for her helped her to overcome them.

She reminded the young people to carry the message of “Now is the Time” home with them from White Oak.

“Do you guys feel like you keep God just close enough so when you’re in dire need you can turn to him?” she asked. “That’s what I did. I knew a lot about Scripture and God but didn’t know him. Then I realized that love is the benevolent and merciful kindness of God that is always present. My prayer is that you’ll leave this place and put what you’ve learned here into action.”

The Mass was a moving and exuberant conclusion to a weekend that had provided the youth with a chance to meet new people, discuss their faith with others and spend time in spiritual reflection.

On Saturday, conference participants had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation face-to-face from priests who sat at various places on the rolling green lawn around the White Oak Conference Center.

There was also free time that day when the youths could participate in a variety of team sports.

“I thought the whole weekend was really great,” said Chris Beym, 16, a member of Our Lady of the Hills Church in Irmo. “The best part was just hanging out with everybody and making new friends.”

Caitlin Connelly, 16, of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, was especially happy with her experience because she had been able to attend the three-day event at the last minute.

“It’s been so great just to be here,” Connelly said. “The speakers especially were so enthusiastic in their faith. They really taught us to make the most of what we are given right now and not to wait until later.”