375 teenagers from archdiocese meet for transformative weekend at ACYC
By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
ORANGE BEACH — Catholic teenagers from throughout the Archdiocese of Mobile discovered they are not alone.
About 375 teens from 34 parishes representing all corners of the archdiocese converged on Orange Beach’s Perdido Beach Resort from Feb. 22-24 for the annual Archdiocesan Catholic Youth Conference. This year’s theme was “This Changes Everything.” While some teens are regulars at the weekend of fun, faith and fellowship, it was a new — and eye-opening — experience for others.
“Everyone after Adoration — their comments were ‘I’ve never been in a room with so many Catholic kids before. They loved it, just loved it. Every one of them,” said Gabe Norton, religious education director at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Selma. “I wanted them to have this experience.”
According to Norton, this marked the first year Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish has brought a group to ACYC in at least seven years.
She said the parish’s religious education program has only 17 kids and the six teens who attended ACYC this weekend are all preparing for Confirmation.
Because Selma isn’t a heavily Catholic town, teens can sometimes find it lonely being the only Catholic in his or her group.
“Many of them go to private school and they are the only Catholic in their school,” Norton said. “For them to be able to connect with other kids that are Catholic is great. One of the girls met another girl from the county over and their schools play each other in sports. She said ‘now I get to see her and I know she’s Catholic.’ That was something she walked away from and was so happy about.”
The teens from Selma weren’t the only newcomers at ACYC.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Clio, located about 25 miles east of Troy, is the only all-Hispanic Catholic Church community in the archdiocese. While it may not be a huge community, it was well-represented in its first trip to ACYC as it had 20 teens.
“I was talking to someone and said we brought 20. She said ‘20! Father are you crazy? Start with a few!’ But I can’t turn somebody back,” joked Rev. Marco Sanchez, S.T., who is responsible for the pastoral care of the mission.
Rev. Sanchez at least had the support of five chaperones.
He felt it was an important trip as the teens not only immersed themselves with other young Catholics, but with largely non-Hispanic Catholics as well.
“The big success is we can see more of the Catholic Church, to see other people with the same experience,” said Rev. Sanchez. “Hopefully there is an integration there. That was a big component for me — to meet other people.”
The integration should be a two-way street, said Archdiocese of Mobile Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Adam Ganucheau.
“For those teens who are the only Catholic in their school, ACYC is a great reminder that the Church is larger both locally and globally, and that they are not alone,” Ganucheau said. “I hope that teens from our Catholic high schools or from larger Catholic areas listen to their peers who, just by where they live, often have a more challenging time in living out their Catholic faith and growing as a disciple.”
As far as growing as disciples, the weekend certainly affected Sarah Trattles, a 17-year-old from St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in Foley.
Trattles said she wanted to attend ACYC in the past, but scheduling conflicts prevented her from attending.
“This has been the best three days of my life,” Sarah said. “I feel like this is going to make me more open to evangelizing the Catholic faith.”
And Sarah wasn’t alone in being changed by ACYC.
“The fire of the Holy Spirit was so present this weekend,” Norton said of her group from Our Lady Queen of Peace. “I was keeping the parish and the parents updated on our Facebook page. The thing I continually asked of them was to pray for the kids be open to the Holy Spirit working through them. And just that they keep that openness. It is obvious that they have had a change. And I want them just to remain open because this is our faith and it’s a jewel.”