Monday, November 24, 2008

Mankato Catholic conference draws 330+ young people

Tries to show young Catholics they're not alone

It’s not very cool, Mankato high schooler Bennett Coughlan says, to talk about his Catholic faith in public. Other teens agree that spirituality isn’t a topic to bring up around friends.

It’s enough to make a teen feel isolated from young people like them.

Showing young Catholics that they’re not alone is one reason the [Winona] Catholic diocese based in southern Minnesota decided to begin holding youth conferences every two years. This weekend marks the third gathering and the first in Mankato, with 377 youths and adults attending.

One of the church’s basic principles is that it’s a worldwide organization, so collaboration across parish lines is important, says Rose Hammes, spokeswoman for the Diocese, which includes Mankato and much of southern Minnesota.

“Service needs are everywhere, friends are everywhere,” she said.

That was evident Saturday afternoon, as hundreds of youth cheered loudly during a Bible skit and other kickoff events.

The conference theme is acts of service, with the six Corporal Acts of Mercy as a guide. In practice, it’s more like “a big Jesus party,” Hammes said.

Those six Acts — based on a passage from the Gospel of Matthew — are feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned and care for the sick. A seventh act, bury the dead, is somewhat more difficult to practice.

West High School student Erin Traxler said it feels good to do service work along with prayer.

“You know it’s actually really going to help someone,” she said.

Coughlan and other students designed the conference T-shirts, which depict the six Acts. They took photos to capture their silhouettes, then he edited them on a computer.

The conference planned to create 43 Thanksgiving dinners for area families and pack 6,000 meals at Kids Against Hunger.

Girls far outnumbered boys at the Holiday Inn conference.

Peter Bierer, a youth minister at St. John the Baptist Church, said getting boys to participate is “always a goal.”

They’re looking for sports figures, and other people who appeal to boys.

In addition to the emphasis on service, the conference had other pragmatic elements.

Heather Vargo, with the St. Paul-based financial nonprofit Catholic Aid, led a class on credit and money management. It was typical, except for the admonition to give between 5 percent and 10 percent of one’s income to charity. Some Catholics believe in tithing, giving a tenth of their income to the church.

This will likely be the final conference for Winona diocese Bishop Bernard Harrington, who is retiring and will be replaced by John Quinn on Dec. 11. Mankato Free Press

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