More than 350 young people from archdiocese take part in annual ACYC
By ROB HERBST
The Catholic Week
ORANGE BEACH — There’s something affirming for 17-year-old Javier Cepero when he spends a weekend praying, learning and bonding with more than 350 fellow young Catholics.
“I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be,” said Javier, of St. Columba Parish in Dothan. “I’m at home.”
For 45 years, teens from throughout the Archdiocese of Mobile have come together for the annual Archdiocesan Catholic Youth Conference. In recent years it’s been at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach, including this past Feb. 14-16. This year’s theme was “Deus Caritas Est – God is Love.”
“This is a time where we all come together,” said Melissa Lami, religious education coordinator at St. Columba.
With more than 30 parishes represented at ACYC, it’s a large family. And numbers indicate St. Columba is a giant part of that family.
St. Columba brought 34 young people to ACYC, the most of any parish in the archdiocese according to Archdiocese of Mobile Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Director Adam Ganucheau. Lami said the parish makes ACYC a priority each year, although there was an obstacle to overcome this year.
The parish recently said goodbye to its longtime youth ministry director Doug Martin because he’s now Fr. Doug Martin – ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in November. While the youth ministry program may be going through some transitions, that wasn’t going to stop the parish from going to ACYC.
“I said ‘we’re going, you don’t have to worry about that.’ We wouldn’t miss it. And the kids love it,” Lami said with a smile.
Part of the reason the kids love it is because of the quality of the program at St. Columba.
“I’m not trying to be biased, but I think we have one of the best youth groups,” Javier joked. “We do so many things together. We actually get to know each other and we become family. This is my second family.”
Javier was making his second trip to ACYC, so he knew what it was all about.
Fellow 17-year-old Elizabeth Herndon was making her first trip and found a ballroom full of young Catholics eye-opening.
“It’s really surreal,” she said. “You’re kind of taken aback. There are not many Catholics in our high school and you don’t really talk about the faith. Here, you’re able to bond with everybody.”
Lami said Elizabeth’s experience isn’t unique.
St. Columba is a large parish and Lami said the youth group regularly attracts around 80 young people. But many of them are scattered as students represent a whopping 21 high schools.
“Because we have so many different schools, a lot of them are the only Catholics in their school,” Lami said. “They feel very self-conscious about being Catholic. But coming here, you’re not alone. They will tell you ‘I just didn’t know there were that many Catholics.”