CARLINVILLE — About 75 participants from a dozen parishes around the diocese traveled to Carlinville April 15 and 16 to take part in the 2011 Diocesan Youth Conference held at Lake Williamson Christian Conference Center. The conference, entitled “Planted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith” was a project led by Kyle Holtgrave, associate director for Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Office for Catechesis.
Holtgrave said the Diocesan Youth Conference was an event that was meant to present the Catholic faith in a practical and inviting way to catechize, evangelize and energize the high school youth of the Diocese of Springfield.
Presenters at the conference included Noelle Garcia McHugh of Michigan, who helped open the event with music and witness; Justin Fatica of Hard as Nails Ministry, who spoke several times and brought the message that like God, people should love one another “no matter who they are or what they have been through”; and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who spoke and answered questions, celebrated Mass to begin Holy Week and then ate dinner with the youth. Students were also able to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and attended several breakout sessions.
“We are a universal church, not parishes existing in isolation,” said Holtgrave. “So it is important to gather as a diocesan community with our shepherd, Bishop Paprocki, to celebrate the gifts and joy that young people bring to the church.”
Late Saturday afternoon, Bishop Paprocki spoke to the youth about the church, his role as bishop and his hopes for their futures. “I come to you as a symbol of unity,” he said. “We are connected with something beyond our parish. I’m a reminder to you that Catholics in our diocese are connected with over 1 billion Catholics in the world.”
Bishop Paprocki said that he had a special prayer for the young people during the week leading up to Easter. “My prayer during Holy Week is that you’ll become closer to God.”
The young people weren’t shy about asking Bishop Paprocki questions about Catholicism and his life as a leader of the church. When one girl asked a specific question about Adam and Eve, he answered her question and then explained, “We have to remember that we don’t look to the Bible for historical facts, we look for theological truth.”
After answering a number of questions, Bishop Paprocki wondered if anyone else had anything else to ask. With that one girl approached the microphone, but said she didn’t have a question. “I just want to say that you are amazing!” she announced.
Holtgrave said that both young people and their leaders benefit from youth conferences. “Networking with others throughout the diocese is another reason why this conference is important,” he said. “Gathering as a diocese helps us to recognize that we are not alone in our faith and that we are not alone in our efforts to share the Good News.
“Adults benefit as much from these kinds of gatherings as the young people,” he said. “New friendships can be made and new ideas to bring back to your parishes can be shared. Networking at an event builds a stronger church because young people and their adult chaperones will be around peers who share the same goal — leading young people to heaven.”
Holtgrave said he hopes that the young people will carry the enthusiasm they showed at the conference home with them. “When young people gather there is a certain ‘spirit’ that develops,” he said. “When we are mindful of the transcendent at youth gatherings such as these, this ‘spirit’ comes to be recognized as the Holy Spirit moving through the group.
“Young people who are open to the Holy Spirit during this conference will bring a fire back to their local parish and share their experience,” he said. “The messages from our keynote speakers, breakout sessions and from our bishop will hopefully inspire the young church of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to be on fire with their faith and to not be shy about sharing that faith with those around them.”