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Catholic youth rally celebrates unity in faith 57th conference taking place at Adam's Mark Hotel

In addition to becoming more grounded in her religious faith, Shannon Weiss, 17, of St. Bernadette Parish in Orchard Park, is flexing her fledgling muscles as a youth leader.

Shannon is one of about 750 Catholic youth participating in the 57th annual Buffalo Diocesan Youth Conference this weekend in the Adam's Mark Hotel.

"It's really helped me to step outside my comfort zone and to meet new people," said Shannon, who described herself as a naturally reserved person.

The convention, which is sponsored by the diocese's Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, features a variety of activities, including a minifestival, coffeehouse, several religious-themed workshops and an awards ceremony -- all of which will conclude with a liturgy on Sunday.

Kathryn M. Goller, the newly appointed director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the diocese, on Friday recalled her experiences as a youth participant in the convention nearly two decades ago. She described it to them as a pilgrimage. "I think that Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged us as Christians to make a pilgrimage -- in fact, all Christians -- to make pilgrimage to Rome, which is the place where St. Paul was buried," Goller said.

"In a very real way, this weekend is our pilgrimage, because pilgrimage is traveling to a homing place, but not just for sightseeing and not just for tourism. The point of the pilgrimage is to come home changed," she said.

"I sincerely hope that all of us will . . . change because of what we experienced here," Goller added.

"I think of this convention as a mountaintop experience where sometimes living our faith everyday . . . can be difficult," Goller said.

"We certainly are bombarded by messages that sometimes are very against the faith and morality we try and live up to. So sometimes we need those places where we can come together with people who believe the same things we do and remind ourselves of why we hold those beliefs and why we hold that faith," she said.

One highlight of this year's conference was lay evangelist and musician Jesse Manibusan, who uses music, comedy and stories to deliver his message.

The Rev. Ronald Sajdak, who has been involved in coordinating the youth conventions, praised the youth of the diocese for energy and commitment this past year in raising $35,000 to build a clinic in the Sudan.

"The Youth Board challenged the young people to reach outside the walls by touching [the] Sudan in Africa. [They helped] one of the lost boys of Sudan, who is here in Buffalo, to help build a medical clinic, and they raised one-third of the amount for brick and mortar to build that clinic.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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