Conference urges youth to give God ‘all access’

WHITE OAK — Dominican Sister Gloria Christi had a special homecoming during the weekend of March 13-15.

She attended the 19th annual Diocese of Charleston Youth Conference for high school students at the White Oak Conference Center. It was the same conference where, from 2001-2005, she worked under her secular name, Rebecca Shafer, as part of the diocesan youth evangelization team, also known as the “E” team.

This year, Sister Gloria Christi returned after making her first profession of vows with the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia of Nash ville, Tenn., in July. She and another sister attended the entire conference, going to Mass and meetings and talking to young women about their experiences as religious sisters.

“Through the diocese, the Lord granted me a very special group of friends who were all striving for unity with Jesus Christ,” she said. “They helped me accept my vocation.”

Sister Gloria Christi and others who spoke stressed the importance of the conference’s theme, “All Access,” which calls attention to the importance of allowing God access to every part of their lives.

About 700 young people attended and were asked to consider vocations during the weekend.

The theme was also incorporated into a humorous “talk show” skit in which Sister Gloria Christi and Father Jeff Kirby, parochial vicar of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken, answered light-hearted questions about their vocations, including how they cope with the simplicity of dress and vows of chastity and obedience.

Guest speakers included Jesse Manibusan, who runs Two By Two Ministries from his home in Grapevine, Texas. Manibusan is a popular motivational speaker and musician who speaks at youth conferences and other events around the nation. He stressed the ever-present nature of God’s love and how young people can rely on it even during the most difficult times in their lives. Manibusan included a call and response that was used for the rest of the weekend. A group leader would call out the time and ask what it signified. “You are loved!” the crowd would respond.

Franciscan Father Patrick Tuttle, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in Greenville, also spoke. He had just completed a 10-hour drive back to South Carolina in bad weather because he was unable to catch a flight home after spending time rebuilding a church in New Orleans.

Father Tuttle’s upbeat, hour-long talk also produced several catch phrases that he wanted the young people to remember. The most-used was “Excess makes you lack access,” a comment on how rampant materialism of the secular world can keep Catholics, and all Christians, from giving God the room to work in their lives.

“Does God have access to you?” he asked. “Is it possible you have so much stuff in your life — your mp3s, your Google calendar, your Ipod — and that you are so busy that you have literally gained the whole world and lost your soul in the process?”

Father Tuttle urged participants to not let themselves become stuffed with the problems and concerns of the secular world, and to unplug their eyes, ears, mouths and hearts from electronics and selfish concerns.

“You have no idea the difference in your life when you unplug,” he said. “God can work through anything. Drop some of the stuff and make things more possible for God. Let your lives be full of something that lasts, not something that passes … You’ve got plans but so does God. No one is offering you eternal life except Jesus Christ. If you want the big picture, you have to hook up your plans with his plans.”

During the weekend, eucharistic adoration was offered and  hundreds of young people waited in line, some for more than an hour, to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. A praise and worship session was also held.

At the end of the closing Mass on March 15, Jerry White, director of youth ministry for the diocese, said he and other organizers were moved by the devotion and focus the youth showed during the weekend.

“You’re the young church, and you need to assume your role as the young church because we need you more than ever,” White said. “You’re powerful when you come together.”

White said he was still receiving phone calls from adults who noted the large number of 600 youth who attended the March for Life in Columbia in January, and urged the students to take the motivation shown during the conference home to their parishes.

“This was my first youth weekend and it was awesome,” said Taylor Baxley, 17, of Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island. “It was great meeting all the people and learning more about giving God access to my life. I’m going to work on getting all the clutter out of my life, and become closer to God.”