"The seed sown in rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold." This line from the Gospel of Matthew defines the purpose of the diocesan Youth Board, allowing the seeds of youth to grow in the rich soil of faith.
The Diocese of Buffalo planted seeds for the next crop of Catholic leaders on June 12, when they installed the new Youth Board in a prayerful and hopeful ceremony at the diocesan Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo.
For decades the Diocese of Buffalo has welcomed and encouraged teenagers into leadership roles. The Diocesan Youth Board trains its members in teamwork, responsibility and problem solving, while allowing them to be a voice in both youth activities and the diocese as a whole.
"The primary responsibility of the diocesan Youth Board is that they plan and prepare for the Diocesan Youth Convention and handle a lot of the behind the scenes logistics that need to be tended to throughout the weekend," explained Michael Slish, program coordinator for the diocesan Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry, which oversees the Youth Board. "They also help to come up with a lot of the ideas and topics that will be addressed in the sessions, help to identify some of the presenters, some of the things that they want to see happen on the main stage or happen in the expo."
They also serve as hosts, welcoming the 800 guests, acting out skits and giving witness talks throughout the convention weekend. For many teens, this is the first opportunity they have to be involved in planning a large event and communicating to a large audience.
"One of the most powerful things that a board member has said about what it means to be on the board, and this has been really helpful for me," recalled Slish. "He said, 'Watching what happened at convention and seeing the experience that other people were having, and knowing that I had a part in that, I really felt that I made a difference. I really felt like I changed someone else's life in our Church for the better.' To know that young people can see themselves as making a difference and feel that they're really doing that, for me that's really powerful."
The annual Youth Convention takes months of cooperative planning in order to have all the breakout sessions, speakers and festival activities run smoothly.
"I learned how to work on a team," said Ryleigh Myers, a member of the 2017-18 board. "I learned how important it is to build a community of faith with others who come from different communities. You get to experience different styles of prayer and talking to God. I think that's very important."
The board, which consists of about a dozen high schoolers from across the diocese, also serves as a consulting group available to anyone in the diocese to give feedback on ways to reach young people. Recently Daybreak TV Productions used the board as a focus group for their video series "In a Word."
"One of the big moments of Youth Board connecting with the rest of the diocese is 'In A Word,'" said Slish. "We had a really good conversation about what we saw, what things were good, what things needed to be changed, and the board had some really good questions. I was really proud of the way they were able to share that with (producers Claire Rung and Paula DeAngelis-Stein), and be confident in sharing their opinions, but also in the ways that Daybreak really took their feedback to heart and changed the way some things were done, incorporating some of the issues that the board had brought up, and to really see that partnership work."
Myers also acted as an advocate for young people by serving on the Diocesan Pastoral Council, a body of people from a cross-section of the diocese who investigate pastoral concerns, then, after prayerful consideration, makes recommendations to the bishop. She found her experience with the council to be a bit intimidating to be only 15 and working with adults who have more experience in the diocese.
"But, it was a great experience to learn about what's going on in the diocese, how it affects teens, how I can communicate that to other teens in the diocese," she said. "I also learned about Wyoming County and I learned about Niagara Falls and parishes within those communities."
One of the issues the council dealt with was the priest abuse scandal. The council recommended programs to implement in the diocese and ways to help victims heal.
Youth Board meetings begin in prayer and are centered in bringing its members closer to Christ. Some young people have told Slish that they've grown in their faith during their time serving on board, and come to understand what it means to be Catholic and be part of the community.
"I really try to incorporate that into our regular meetings and also to encourage young people to take faith seriously in their daily lives," he said. "Every year board members set a spiritual goal in a way that they would hope to grow in faith and every year they say that was a fruitful and useful thing for them."
Myers completed her one-year term on the board, but will return for a second year. She was the only member this year to be reinstalled.
"I'm coming back because it's a great opportunity to make connections with youth and adults in the diocese. It's also a great way to serve the community to outreach to other parishes," she said.
Hannah Sacilowski, 18, one of the outgoing members, enjoyed planning 2018's convention. She plans to use the skills she learned on the board in her nursing career. The 18-year-old will study at D'Youville College this fall.
"I definitely learned how much work goes into planning something so big as convention and how to work together with a group of people to get something big done," she said. "I learned a lot about working together with people. As a nurse, I'll have to work with people all the time and just be there for people."