On the eve of St. Valentine's Day, the same day that "50 Shades of Grey" opened, the 63rd annual diocesan Youth Convention also opened. As a reaction to the hedonist message that society gives teenagers, the convention held the theme of Restore.
The theme comes from the Gospel of Mark and the story of Jesus restoring a leper with his touch.
"With social media building and pop culture building, it was a good time to bring everyone together to remind everybody that we need to restore our faith in each other and in God," said Gabrielle Simoneit, 17, co-captain of the diocesan Youth Board.
Keynote speaker Mike Patin, a former high school teacher, youth minister and basketball coach from Lafayette, La., wove lessons into funny stories and interactive games during three talks he gave to the teens over the weekend.
Patin said his job was to "figure how ordinary people in 2015 can connect to a God that sometimes you can't see with your bare eyes."
He asked what teenagers are looking for today. The crowd replied with calls of "acceptance," "a normal society," "good looks," "Love," and "self-acceptance."
Doing his take on "The Amazing Race," Patin asked teen contestants to find specific objects from the audience. The last to do so was eliminated from the game.
"I love the game because it reminds me of real life. Everybody is searching for something," Patin said, adding that often people will settle on the first thing they find that comes close to what they want instead of the thing that's going to fill them the fullest.
St. Augustine, a hedonist who later became a prominent theologian, once wrote, "Our hearts are restless until they rest with you, oh God."
"I don't know why you're here, but I know why I am," Patin said. "It's because I think I see God in you. I'm pretty sure I do. I want to meet some of you. Some of you get restless because of a relationship mess. And some of you realize you're just like some other people in this room. You ain't the biggest freak in this joint. The first way to be restored is to let yourself rest in God. Can you be open to not chasing your tail and not try to be the stud and most popular. They're a bunch of other people who want to try that this weekend. I have this sneaking suspicion that even though I can't see it with my naked eye, I feel God has plans this weekend and they involve me and they involve you."
On Saturday morning, Patin took to the stage again, telling the story from the early days of dating his future wife just after starting a coaching job. He went from seeing her every night to seeing her only once a week. She didn't like the new arrangement and let him know.
As a bit of dating advice, Patin warned the teens never to say what he said to his girlfriend. "Don't make me choose between you and basketball and you, because you'd lose."
Her reply, "I'm not asking you to chose between me and basketball. I'm asking you to include me and not to shut me out."
"I think that's what God wants to tell ordinary people, teenagers and grownups in 2015," Patin explained. "I'm not asking you to chose between living in one of the greatest generations in history. I'm asking you to include Me and not shut Me out. I don't want to just be the God of your religion. I want to be the God of your drama. I want to be the God of your questions and your dissatisfaction with yourself. I want to be with you with when you are jacked up and juiced and everything is good. I don't want to control, I want to be included. And if you stay with me, I will show you as you go, maybe how you look at some things. I might help you restore how you look at yourself."
Small-group breakouts and larger mega sessions continued on the restoration theme and dealt with making time for God, human dignity, improving the environment, and relationships.
"I learned a lot about relationships and restoring them," said Eli Trembley, 15, from Holy Spirit Parish, North Collins. "I can fix some of the relationships that are not perfect in my life now."
Trembley, like most of the teens, came to spend time with friends and meet new people with similar faith values.
"I came because I wanted to connect with the youth and really understand as a whole, I'm not the only Catholic teenager here. It's amazing to see that we're all one in God and we can all connect on another level," said Caroline Reeb, 15, from Infant of Prague Parish, Cheektowaga. "(Faith) is important because it is the strongest relationship I have and probably am going to have. God will always be there for me, so I know I will never be let down by him. So, it's important."
Bishop Richard J. Malone, who celebrated Mass on Sunday morning, told the crowd, specifically the seniors heading off to college, "Keep yourselves fully involved. That's my prayer for you. That's my challenge for you. That's my promise. If you do that you will continue to experience the restoring, healing, empowering, forgiving, reconciling, energizing, peace-giving love of Jesus Christ our Lord. It makes all the difference," he said.
This year's convention drew 850 people from 61 parishes and schools to the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo.
The weekend also included a series of games, service projects and prayer opportunities during the weekend-long expo, and a teaching Mass led by Father David Baker, parochial vicar at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda.