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home : features : people of faith

7/18/2013 9:01:00 AM
Youth conference is a chance to connect - and disconnect
The St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference will be held Aug 9-11. Registration and meals are $110; lodging at an Albany hotel is $48 for two nights. Financial assistance is available. See www.joguesyouthconference.com.

The conference started in 2006 when youth ministry teams from St. Ambrose and St. Paul the Apostle parish in Schenectady decided to create an affordable and local alternative to large national conferences. They secured the same high-profile speakers and began to attract teens from other dioceses and states. As many as 180 young people have participated; leaders do not turn anyone away for inability to pay. The conference became a not-for-profit organization this year. All staff is volunteer.


Teens from the Albany Diocese and several other dioceses will gather Aug. 9-11 at Camp Scully on Snyder's Lake in Rensselaer County for a weekend of vibrant worship, workshops and guest speakers, eucharistic adoration, confession, spiritual guidance and Mass.

It's all part of the three-day St. Isaac Jogues Youth Conference, which takes participants "outside of their normal life so they can separate themselves from multimedia and distractions," said Mark Trudeau, youth minister at St. Ambrose parish in Latham and a coordinator of the retreat.

He said the goal is "to evangelize, to provide an environment where the sacraments of the Church can envelop and invite these teens into a personal relationship with Christ."

Conference veteran Mary-Kate Hayward calls her faith "cool" and "fun."

The conference kicks off on a Friday night with a high-energy Christian rock band, snacks and socializing. Saturday features Mass and talks for teen boys and girls, plus workshops with local and national speakers on topics like vocations, chastity, Marian spirituality and saints. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard will stop by on Friday night and also celebrate Mass on Sunday.

This year's conference theme is faith, hope and charity. "These virtues possess everything that a relationship with Christ possesses," Mr. Trudeau said.

Teens need to hear positive messages like this, he said, because "the thing they experience in their culture today is homogenization. God can't be a part of [that] mix. It's not anti-God; it's just, 'Forget about God.'"

Mary-Kate, now 21 and a long-time "peer disciple" for the program, can relate to that: She used to go to church school because she felt she had to. But after her first conference as a high-school junior in 2009, something clicked.

"It was the best weekend of my life," Mary-Kate said. "It opened my eyes to what the faith and the Church is all about. It really inspired me to learn more and get more involved. I realized I wasn't really doing good things."

Afterward, Mary-Kate said, she stopped being "mean" to her brother, starting opening the Bible more and realized she wanted to pursue music therapy as a career.

"The power of the music opened up people who were skeptical about the conference," she explained.

Mr. Trudeau said the conferences always feature discussions with priests, sisters and more on "the idea of trying to follow God's will for your life."

Mary-Kate remembers fondly her chats with women religious at her first retreat: "It gave me faith that one day, I was going to figure it out - that there was never going to be a 'too late' moment."

Now a senior at Russell Sage College in Troy, she said the purpose of the conference is to "show kids that [faith is] not uncool....You have friends here, and if your friends are going to make fun of you for [your faith], then maybe they're not your friends."

Mary-Kate said young people are often swayed by the negative image the media spreads about the Catholic Church.

"But [teens] should listen to what they think is right, not what other people are telling them is right," she said. "People made fun of Jesus, too, but He did what was right and what was right for other people."

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