Girls ripping the shirts off guys. Skanking (a type of dancing) 'til midnight. Talking on the phone until 4 in the morning. All this while surrounded by punks with blue hair and shirts bearing the legend "Psychiatric Ward." Is this the kind of convention you would send your children to? My parents thought nothing of it as they watched me head off to the Buffalo Diocese Catholic Youth Convention in Niagara Falls recently.
Far from being a weekend of decadence, the convention was a strictly monitored event that allowed youth from around the area to assemble and share their faith. The removing of clothing was part of a contest to see which parish could place as many of the 30,000 T-shirts collected to aid the poor in Nicaragua, on a member of that church in two minutes. A second representative from the church then counted them by removing them one at a time. The wild dancing was done at the two dances that weekend and were a chance to make friends, exchange phone numbers and then talk later on the phone.
The convention opened Friday with the greeting of all attending parishes and an opening prayer. Following the prayer, guest speaker Brian Johnson talked for an hour and a half about religion and managed to keep my attention and that of 1,050 other teens. Confession was later held for all those wishing to attend. The highlight was the "Celebration Dance" which helped everybody get comfortable and make friends.
Early the next day the convention continued with the collecting of donated T-shirts and the contest. Missionary Anne Marie Zon gave an excellent talk on life in Nicaragua. Through her speech I learned that Nicaraguans, like the women who gave two coins at the temple in the Bible, give everything even when they have nothing to give. For example, after the massive earthquake in El Salvador, Nicaragua sent more aid than any other nation when they should be receiving it themselves.
Everyone then had a chance to attend morning workshops to exchange ideas and receive guidance on living a moral life in today's world. Following lunch and awards was another workshop, then parishes had a chance to go somewhere separately for dinner. Afterward, everyone got ready for the big semi-formal dance. The DJ, besides playing the typical dance/rap music, played some punk and even a ska song, which kept everyone happy.
The next morning was a mad rush to load the luggage and get back in time for brunch and a two-hour Mass led by Father Gary Bagley and attended by Bishop Henry Mansell.
Coming from a public school with mostly Protestant friends who have no idea what confession is and think the "Hail Mary" is a football play, it was like a sort of homecoming to see 1,100 people able to follow the Mass and say the "Apostles Creed" by heart. I was in awe surrounded by so many other people who come from the same background as myself.
Will Burns is a freshman at Pembroke High School.