By RENEE WEBB
Dynamic speakers, inspirational music, prayer-filled experiences and fellowship with other teens are just some of the offerings that await at a new Catholic youth conference to be held July 29-31 in Sioux City.
The Champions of the Tau Youth Conference, for students currently in eighth to twelfth grade, is organized by the Ministry Institute of Christ the Servant and is co-sponsored by Briar Cliff University.
Brandon Harvey, institute director, said the conference is unique for many reasons. From a practical standpoint it is close to home for those in the Diocese of Sioux City and it’s affordable. However, he stressed the most unique feature is its discipleship model.
“With a discipleship model, it focuses on helping parish groups to bond, to develop relationships, to learn to pray together and to prepare for a deeper spiritual life at their parish,” he said.
The theme of this year’s conference, which will be held at Briar Cliff University, is “Instruments of Mercy.”
“Pope Francis has asked us to be ‘Instruments of Mercy’ in Misericordiae Vultus,” noted Harvey, referring to the papal bull.
Youth will be called to be instruments of mercy within the context of Jesus’ teachings proclaimed in the Gospel. Talks will address mercy and the cross, mercy and its connection with the Eucharist and confession, allowing God’s mercy to transform us as well as sharing mercy with others by sharing the faith with others and standing up against injustice.
Harvey said they want to challenge youth to realize the radical nature of mercy, the inseparable relationship between the mercy of the cross found in the church and that encountering God’s mercy moves us to be merciful to others.
Speakers of note
Keynote speakers include a Franciscan Friar, a priest and lay leaders who are known for their dynamic presence among youth. They will embody the theme of the conference, focusing exclusively on the theme of mercy.
Plus, each student will attend four breakouts featuring numerous topics ranging from the meaning of life to discipleship, the church, praying well, exorcisms and more. There will also be four breakouts for adult chaperones and parents.
Given the conference will be built on the discipleship model made popular by YDisciple, a discipleship program, Harvey said they plan to focus on preparing the youth for life after the conference. With that in mind, several local figures will lead the breakout sessions.
While the Ministry Institute focuses on forming ministry leaders, Harvey said the conference will include formation unique to the adult chaperones which helps to accomplish their mission.
“It also helps us answer the needs of so many priests, lay workers and parents who want a local option, an affordable option, that will help the youth to not only have a good time but to be as excited about their parish or school or family formation opportunities,” Harvey said. “As one priest said to me, ‘my youth love going to confession at their conference but I want them to know that the same Christ comes to them in confession at their home parish.’”
Planning to attend
“What I really like about the Champions of the Tau conference is that our youth get to attend a great small conference close to home,” said Julie Storr, a DRE who plans to bring youth to the conference. “Defining great, I include sacraments, choices of what sessions they want to attend, awesome music and prayer time, and time for fun. By small I mean that this is not thousands of students, and it gives the youth the opportunity to form friendships within our own diocese or nearby.”
David Penton, confirmation coordinator, views this conference as an opportunity of a lifetime for youth to gather with other youth from around the Midwest to share the love of Jesus and to discover that you are not alone on your journey with Jesus.
“We looked at other conferences and found that The Tau Conference offers similar activities and less of the cost,” he said. “For this fact, we feel our cluster parishes are – like St. Francis of Assisi – being good stewards of our resources and doing the work of God.”
Champions of what?
Harvey acknowledged it was “gutsy to pick such a strange name” for the conference – The Champions of the Tau – but he saw it as a way to come to know the real St. Francis of Assisi. The saint used the Franciscan cross, which is the Tau – a letter of the Hebrew alphabet – in his ministry.
“We see Francis of Assisi as the crossroads of the priority of the sacred liturgy, the mission of evangelization and social justice,” Harvey said. “These aspects of the Catholic Church’s life, organically fit together in the teachings of the church and the life of Francis.”
The Tau was used in the preaching of Pope Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council because of its similar shape to that of the Cross of Christ. It was connected with the message of this pope and this council. Innocent III challenged those present to go out and be “Champions of the Tau.”
“It is believed that Francis was present and he went out, inspired, and used the Tau Cross as his own personal symbol,” Harvey noted. “This shows Francis’ love for the pope, the church and Francis’ life and writings show he greatly desired to further the mission of the church.”
Just as St. Francis of Assisi accepted the invitation of the pope of his time, he said, “We want to accept the invitation of our pope to rediscover mercy. Mercy, like the notion of love, is a word abused and robbed of its meaning.”
Youth can attend in a parish or school group as well as in a family unit with a parent or parents. Youth, he stressed, need to have a chaperone or parent for not just liability reasons but also to work with the youth, to disciple them and help them go deeper in the months that follow the conference.
“The conference has several hours each day for groups or families to pray together, discuss their current faith situation, plan for life after the conference, play sports or other fun activities,” Harvey said.
Groups must first RSVP their spots because space is not unlimited. A registration packet is sent out once they reserve their group. These registration forms and the $150 conference fee are due prior to June 30. Harvey encouraged groups to RSVP as soon as possible: briarcliff.edu/youthconference.