WINNSBORO — For 15 years the youth of the Diocese of Charleston have come to get spiritual sustenance at the annual high school youth conference in the spring. This year was no different as hundreds of youth converged at White Oak Conference Center in Winnsboro to “Start a Revolution — Living Your Faith.”
Under the leadership of youth director, Jerry White, the program was action-packed with games, skits and a diverse group of speakers such as Joshua Blakesley, Tammy Evevard, Brother Henry Fulmer, Kevin Irmiter, Lisa Militello, Chris Padgett, and Bob Perron, who articulated the ancient message of Christianity in a relevant way for the teens.
“Every time I go, I get fired up for God,” said Ann Kennedy of Blessed Trinity in Greer. “Throughout the year, you can drift off, but coming back to the conference helps you get back on track.”
Mary Ann Lander, another youth from Blessed Trinity, said, “They make our faith apply to our lives.”
Tammy Evevard, a popular youth speaker, brought enthusiasm to her talk geared to the young ladies.
“There is great dignity in being a woman,” said Evevard.
She explained that often women will talk themselves out of that dignity because they do not feel they measure up to a superficial and secular standard that is not God’s standard.
Chris Padgett, the lead singer of the band Scarecrow and Tinmen, was a particular favorite with participants. He had the youth laughing hysterically one moment and silently contemplating Jesus the next.
“Chris inspires you to have fun in your faith, fun with your family and believe in what you do as a Christian,” said Melissa Gonzales from St. Michael Church at Fort Jackson.
Michael Stevens, a senior at Clemson and a member of the Rapid Response Team that helped chaperone the weekend, said, “He understands that kids know a lot more than they are given credit for. He makes them think and guides them to the right answers and the right places.”
In addition to general sessions, the conference included over a dozen workshops with local and national experts sharing their knowledge of God.
Bob Perron, executive director of the St. Thomas More Center and Office of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Des Moines, led a workshop on “Treacherous Adventure.” Perron gave a personal testimony about the moment he stopped going through the motions of being a Catholic and began living his baptismal promise. He said he owes much of his awakening to a young autistic boy named Joey, whom he was assigned to visit for apostolic work.
Perron said that each day he went to visit Joey at the child psychiatric hospital, he would get absolutely no response from the 10-year-old boy and felt he was simply wasting his time.
On his last day after two long semesters of daily visits, Perron told Joey — who was rocking and staring into space as usual — that he would no longer be visiting. As Perron was walking out of the room, the rocking stopped. Perron turned and saw that Joey had tears streaming down his face.
“Mr. Bob, don’t leave, you are my only friend,” Joey said.
“So often we try to do great things for God but often when we try to do these great things it can easily become ‘all about me.’ ” Perron said. “When we step aside, God is able to work through us, but we have to trust, even when we don’t know where the road may lead us.”
Lisa Militello, a youth minister for St. Joseph Church in Columbia and a national Catholic speaker, gave another powerful workshop. She tried to answer the “who, what, why, where and how” of suffering by integrating parts of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on suffering.
She told the youth that suffering is a common bond of humanity because everyone experiences it.
According to Militello, suffering can be the consequence of a poor choice, but it is not a punishment. It can also be similar to the suffering of Job which had no known reason. Regardless of the why, she reminded everyone that through suffering there is always an opportunity for spiritual growth. She used the suffering of Christ as an example of how his suffering provided the salvation of the world.