WHITE OAK — Sometimes getting lost can be a good thing. At least that’s what teens learned at the 18th annual Diocese of Charleston Catholic Youth Conference held March 7-9 at the White Oak Conference Center.
The conference theme was “Get Lost in Christ,” and activities throughout the weekend stressed the importance of putting the Lord at the center of daily life.
The young people took part in skits and team sports, read Scripture, prayed together, attended adoration and received the sacrament of reconciliation.
Local and national speakers offered tips on how to live Christian lives despite the pressures of a secular world.
More than 700 high school students and adult leaders from around the state attended.
Father Jeffrey Kirby, who was ordained to the priesthood in July 2007, was the keynote speaker for the opening session March 7. He is parochial vicar at St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken.
His speech used lines from the Nicene Creed to illustrate basic points of Christian and Catholic belief, and their importance in daily life. He repeated the phrases “You’ve been hoodwinked, you’ve been bamboozled, you’ve been had” to clarify the lies secular culture tells about God and what belief in God means.
“By being human persons, we are by nature religious beings,” Father Kirby said. “Our heart of hearts desires to know God. God is greater than anything that can ever be said about him. He approaches us lovingly, freely choosing to share his own knowledge of himself with us. God, through the ages, has shared himself with humanity through fullness in Jesus Christ. Each of us can know God because God himself wants to tell us.”
The priest received wild applause and support from his church’s youth, some of whom wore T-shirts that read “Kirby’s Crew.”
Tammy Evevard, a Colorado-based speaker, spoke on March 8 at a special session for young women. She asked them to give examples of peer pressure or challenges to their faith that they experienced.
She said today’s culture often makes women feel inadequate because they don’t measure up to standards of appearance, conduct or popularity.
“You are princesses of the most high God,” Everard told the women. “That’s what God speaks to us. He doesn’t say ‘Arise those who are six feet tall and 25 pounds!’ That is the biggest brokenness of all, the brokenneness of our culture and how it sees women. The world takes the idea of who we are and breaks it apart.”
Evevard said that through a relationship with Christ, women can find an inner strength and deal more effectively with daily pressures. She encouraged the youth to focus on becoming Catholic women whose lives are centered on their faith and the concepts of “power, self control and love.”
“We are not a mistake and we do not deserve to be treated like mistakes,” Evevard said. “We are not meant to take a step back and not show our intelligence so that others might not feel uncomfortable … If we live lives as women of power, self control and love, there is nothing we can’t do … you can spend your whole life stuffing yourself with things, but they won’t bring deep satisfaction. What your heart really longs for is love at the deepest place.”
Other speakers during the weekend included Louisiana-based Charlie Cantrell, who uses humor to convey Gospel lessons; and Luke Vercollone, a Charleston-based former professional soccer player and devout Catholic.
Youth who attended said they felt encouraged by the faith of their peers and by the messages speakers offered.
“I really enjoyed the weekend — it was very moving for me,” said Brittany Southard, a high school senior who attends Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville. “I really felt the whole thing made me come closer to God.”
Jerry White, director of youth and young adult ministry for the diocese, spoke during closing ceremonies and urged the young people to remember the lessons they learned during the weekend. He also encouraged them to find someone in their lives that can help them be spiritually accountable.
“You’re going to go home to the same situations you faced when you came here, and a voice is going to tell you what happened over this weekend wasn’t real,” White said. “I want to tell you that if you say ‘Lord, I want to live with you’ this weekend, he’s right there with you … Satan wants you to walk in the dark, but God wants you to walk in the light. You are the masterpieces of our risen Lord.”