BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Hundreds of high-school students attended the 2013 Convivio Youth Congress in Connecticut March 8-10 to talk about the Christian faith, grow spiritually and consider the meaning of friendship today.
Florencia Silva, youth-ministry director for the Diocese of Bridgeport, said the event is intended “to help kids encounter Christ and grow in their friendship with him.”
Friendship, she noted, is “a very important topic” for teenagers, since contemporary culture “doesn’t help people form real relationships.”
“Many times, the young people feel very isolated and alone, and it’s very hard for them to find relationships,” she added.
Even social media “sometimes makes them feel more connected, but also more isolated.”
The 2013 congress’ theme was taken from the words of Jesus to the disciples in the Gospel of John: “I have called you friends.” The congress aimed to explore common misconceptions about friendship, the problem of loneliness and the longing for genuine relationship. It intended to explore the qualities of true friendship, with the goal of helping others reach eternal life.
Stephen Kawulicz, a two-time Convivio attendee from Brookfield, Conn., said he loved the congress’ talks. “They’re all very thought-provoking and make me look at things in a new light,” he told Catholic News Agency.
“I think that a friendship with Christ and a friendship with God should be both the center of our lives and the center of our friendships with other people. Because that’s what makes everything last,” he said.
“God’s love is eternal and perfect, while our love falls short.”
The Convivio gathering was held at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., with help from about 100 adult volunteers and 80 student leaders.
At the congress’ opening, dozens of teens waited at the doors to greet their friends and classmates, help with registration and make introductions. Besides talks, small-group discussion and a concert, the congress featured chances for prayer, Eucharistic adoration and Sunday Mass.
The three-day youth congress was introduced to the U.S. in 2010 by the Marian Community of Reconciliation, a community of lay consecrated women whose ministry focuses on youth outreach.
Silva, who is a member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, said Convivio is unique because it is youth-run. High school and college students help in the planning and organization of the congress. They invite other young people to attend through giving speeches at their parishes and schools, putting up posters and posting Facebook statuses. The students lead the groups and give the talks and witnesses. The event leads youth through a question-and-answer process.
“They’re not here to be told. We help them encounter the answers themselves,” Silva told CNA, noting that the small-group format also helps promote one-on-one engagement.
The event is open to youths who question their faith or are looking for answers, along with those who are excited about their faith, Silva said.
Convivio delegations came from Massachusetts, Texas and Colorado. Maria Salazar, a high-school freshman from Denver, said that she attended because she wanted to grow stronger in her faith.
“I honestly thought it was going to be one of those normal retreats and not a lot of fun, but after the first day, I had so much joy I couldn’t contain it,” she said. “I wanted to stay there and grow closer in friendship with Christ and the people around me.”
Salazar said Eucharistic adoration and singing together with other retreat attendees were her favorite parts of the congress.
Silva said her favorite part of Convivio is witnessing young people change from Friday to Sunday. “On Friday, they are insecure, and they don’t want to step out of their comfort zone,” she said. Attendees become more self-giving and appear “completely transformed” by Sunday.
Past Convivio participants say they have formed long and lasting friendships over the weekend, rooted in their common love for Jesus Christ.