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Diversity within the Catholic Church will be the theme of this year's Catholic Youth Convention next weekend in Niagara Falls.

More than 1,000 teenagers and adults from 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo are expected to attend the event in the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center. It will open at 8 p.m. Friday and conclude with a Mass at 1 p.m. next Sunday.

The featured speaker for Friday's opening session will be Brian Johnson, youth director for the Galveston-Houston Catholic Diocese in Texas. He will discuss the issue of diversity.

"The convention will attempt to show the kids that the church is bigger than their own parish," said the Rev. Gary J. Bagley, director of the Youth Department in the Buffalo diocese.

"The church 20 years from now will look a lot different than it does today," he added.

Johnson, an African-American who grew up in Baltimore, served as a facilitator for "Encuentro 2000," the Catholic gathering held last summer in Los Angeles.

The theme of that event was "Many Faces in God's House."

The youth convention will build on that idea with its theme, "Many Young Faces in God's House."

Friday night's program also will include a prayer service, a penance service with 25 priests available to hear confessions, a dance, coffee house and prayer chapel.

Next Saturday's program will open at 9 a.m. with a talk by Ann Marie Zon, a former nun who serves as a missionary to Nicaragua.

She returns to her parents' Amherst home every year to gather materials to distribute to the poor in Nicaragua.

In conjunction with her visit, teens planning to attend the convention and members of other parishes throughout the diocese have been collecting T-shirts that will be given to Zon to distribute in the Central American nation. The project has been dubbed the "Give Them the Shirts Off Our Backs" campaign.

Bagley said the campaign hopes to fill a 24-foot-long rental truck with T-shirts.

Next Saturday's program also will include morning and afternoon workshops on a variety of topics, including stress and conflict in families, forgiveness, sports and Catholic values, understanding the meaning of neighbor, and using creativity to make the world a better place.

Activities will conclude with a dance.

Bishop Henry J. Mansell will honor a number of adults and teens during an awards brunch at 11 a.m. next Sunday. Recipients will include Monsignor David M. Gallivan, director of the Hispanic Apostolate and pastor of Holy Cross Parish, who will be honored as "Youth Moderator of the Year."

Seven adults will be presented "For God and Youth" awards for their work with young people. Several teens also will be given awards for service to their parishes, leadership and involvement in school and community.

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