By Diane Gasper-O’Brien
Victoria — The 250 youth gathered here Sunday for World Youth Day was just a prelude to next year.
A year from now, more than 1,000 youth and adults from the Diocese of Salina plan to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City, Mo.
That’s news that leaves Sister Barbara Ellen Apaceller amazed and overwhelmed. “Our diocese is so blessed to have this wonderful group of young people who are making a difference in their local communities and our diocese,” she said.
The youth came here for the diocese’s second World Youth Day celebration. Capuchin Father Michael Scully, pastor at St. Fidelis Church, welcomed the youth to Victoria Grade School. The Capuchins’ Spiritual Life Center in Victoria and the diocesan youth office sponsored the event.
Karen Dawson, a nationally known speaker from Washington, Mo., spoke about service and how helping others can be life changing for all involved.
Dawson held the students’ attention for several hours with a variety of small-group activities sandwiched between her talks. Students were able to meet with others from around the diocese because they were separated from members of their own parishes.
Dawson interjected humor into her talks and in the activities and used her own real-life experiences to stress various points that always came back to service.
She talked about growing up in a home that didn’t have running water or electricity but that she didn’t know the difference.
“We weren’t wealthy, but we weren’t poor either. I didn’t now that I wasn’t rich, because it was a very loving family,” Dawson said. “I learned from my (grandma) that it’s not what you have, it’s what you give.”
“I learned at a young age how much better it is to give to someone else,” she added, talking about the impression of giving and service left on her life.
A panel of six teenagers who have attended various conferences throughout high school shared some of their experiences with the crowd.
Becca Duckworth, a senior from Manhattan High School and a member of St. Thomas More Parish, told the crowd how the hardest part of attending motivational conferences and other events was the coming home to real life.
“You’re on this spiritual high, and you wonder how to keep the fire in your heart,” she said. “You have to know why the fire is there. You have to delve into your faith and figure out why you ever believe what you believe in the first place.”
Deb Locke, an adult leader for the CYO at Christ the King Church in WaKeeney, said she thinks hearing speakers their own age is especially beneficial for teenagers.
“This is a wonderful faith-sharing experience for the kids,” said Locke, whose youngest daughter, Kristen, is a member of the WaKeeney CYO. “There is nothing like the youth talking to the youth. That connection is so much stronger than hearing it from an adult.”
Msgr. James Hake, who celebrated Mass at the end of the event, agreed.
Msgr. Hake, a vicar general for the diocese, filled in for Bishop Paul Coakley, who was unable to attend the World Youth Day because he was at his father’s 90th birthday celebration in Merriam.
Msgr. Hake said he was going to make sure he told Bishop Coakley what he missed.
He said he was impressed with the interaction of the youth, and told them so, concluding his homily by answering Duckworth’s question about keeping the fire burning.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Msgr. Hake said. “You’re doing it beautifully.”
Earlier in the day, Sister Barbara Ellen, a Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia and youth ministries director for the diocese, met with more than 160 youth and adults who had taken part in the summer’s Prayer and Action mission project in Beloit and Hays. During five weeks in June and July, teams of youth and adult sponsors helped the less fortunate by fixing up homes and cleaning up yards.
“There was a lot of enthusiasm and visiting among the high school students and the team members,” Sister Barbara Ellen said of the morning’s reunion, noting it was a time for them to renew friendships, pray together and share what is going on in their lives.