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Young people at ICYC told they are created to be loved; have inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God

The following story appeared in the March 24 Idaho Catholic Register.

Members of the “God Squad,” perform during the Idaho Catholic Youth Conference in Nampa, March 10-12. The 35-members of the God Squad were chosen from the North and North-Central Deaneries to lead the music, perform skits and Saints monologues during the conference attended by about 1,600 youths. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

By Emily Woodham

and Gene Fadness

Idaho Catholic Register

NAMPA – Between 1,500 and 1,600 teens along with their youth ministers and chaperones listened, danced, sang and experienced Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation during the March 10-12 Idaho Catholic Youth Conference at the Ford Center in Nampa.

Attendance was greater than last year, the first ICYC in three years because of the COVID pandemic, but still is not up to pre-pandemic levels, said Andrew Furphy, director of youth and young adult ministries for the Diocese of Boise.

Most of the young people came from the Diocese of Boise, but there were also 150 from the Diocese of Baker, Ore – including their bishop, Bishop Liam Cary who celebrated Saturday’s Mass – and from Walla Walla in the Diocese of Spokane.

Lower numbers notwithstanding, Furphy believes those who attended had their faith strengthened with some converted to their faith for the first time. “The engagement of the audience from the music and with the speakers was encouraging,” Furphy said. “They were clearly dialed in, which is not always an easy thing to do with thousands of high-schoolers.”

This was the first year that Jessica Musser, youth and young adult minister at All Saints Parish in Lewiston, led a group of teens to ICYC. Even though there a couple of challenges, she said, the experience for her was life-changing. “I grew in my own faith and witnessed my youth grow in their faith. I got to know them better.”

Adoration, led on Saturday night by Father Justin Brady and Father Camilo Garcia and a number of seminarians from the Diocese, was a highlight for Musser.

The teens were able to share meals with seminarians and members of religious orders. During lunch on Saturday, 17 priests were hearing Confession and five priests heard Confession during the dinner hour.

The messages from the speakers and emcee Joe Melendrez focused on the theme, “Belong: You Belong in the Father’s House With Us.” Over and again, the teens were reminded that in a day and age when there is much discussion about identity, they can be assured that their identity is as beloved sons and daughters of God, created to be loved and for love in community.

“We’re connected,” Bishop Peter Christensen said in his remarks to open the conference. “You are exactly where you are supposed to be. God is calling you to a deep relationship with Him. He wants you to know how deeply He loves you, is with you and will be with you forever.”

The conference opened with praise music led by Thomas Muglia and his band and opening remarks from Andrew Furphy. “I’m so excited to see how the Holy Spirit moves in each and every single, individual life,” Furphy said to the crowd. “Any of you who are wondering if you belong here right now, you do.”

Melendrez, a hip-hop artist and conference speaker, was back for the second year as emcee. He reminded the young people that each person is called to be a saint, ordinary people who said yes to God. “Saints lived their lives to serve Jesus, and a lot of them had very different lives. And guess what? God can turn your mess into a message,” he said.

To give participants a glimpse into the different lives of saints, young people from the 35-member “God Squad,” performed “saint monologues” about the lives of saints or those on the way to sainthood, including St. Agnes, Blessed Solanus Casey, St. Kateri, St. Andre, St. Damian of Molokai and St. Marianne Cope. Banners of the saints, especially young saints, surrounded the conference hall.

The God Squad also led worship music and performed skits. This year’s God Squad came from the North and North-Central deaneries, which include parishes from Grangeville north to the Canadian border.

During each day, different decades of the rosary were led by seminarians of the Diocese of Boise, including Ian Willard, Nathan Ribb, Joshua Tennyson, Ronald Onyekwelu and Deacon Nelson Cintra.

Emcee Joe Melendrez leads the young people in his distinctive hip-hop style of music during the recent Idaho Catholic Youth Conference. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)


‘The one who seeks only human love to quench his or her thirst will be thirsty always for mere human love. Human love can never satisfy the depths of the human heart, especially when it’s sought selfishly or sinfully. But those who seek the love of God will never lack, will never be emptied and will never thirst in vain. The more one thirsts, the more Jesus will fill them with His own thirst for them, which is His love.’

-- Bishop Peter Christensen


Bishop Peter: ‘Come to the well’

Bishop Peter celebrated Mass on Sunday, speaking about the power of helping people to drink from the well of salvation, basing his homily on the Gospel reading of the Samaritan woman at the well. In the passage, Jesus defies cultural norms and prejudices when he asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. He then told her that if she knew to whom she was speaking, she would ask Him for a drink. “Everyone who drinks this water (from the well) will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Each time he hears that Gospel passage, Bishop Peter said he thinks of a woman he helped during his first year as a priest in Minnesota. She and her fiancé met with the Bishop for premarital counseling. When Bishop Peter discovered that she was in an abusive relationship, he told her God did not want her living in fear.

“God wants us to be happy and never taken advantage of by another,” Bishop Peter told the young people. He said the teens need to be careful not to put themselves “in situations that would convince us that we’re not worthy of real love.”

After choosing to leave her abusive fiancé, the woman later fell in love and married a good, Catholic man. Through the years, Bishop Peter would run into her. Each time she would update him about her life and how well she was doing. Now, she and her family live in Idaho. She has been married for more than 30 years. The mother of seven children, she is active in her parish and in prison ministry. Her life shows the ripple effects of drinking from the waters of a good life, Bishop Peter said.

Whenever someone experiences a deeper conversion, it is because he or she has “gone to the well,” the Bishop said. “The Samaritan woman is forever changed by the man she meets at the well. Jesus knows her. He knows her past, and He gives her hope for her future, recognizing that she is a child of God, chosen for a life of goodness, not for harm. Jesus offers her a different kind of water that quenches the thirst for a life of greater meaning,” he said.

“Have you been to the well?” Bishop Peter asked the teens. God’s grace often surprises us, he said, and for the things that are heavy on our hearts, God gives answers that are often better than we expect.

St. Teresa of Calcutta was fond of saying that we are made to love and to be loved, he said. “The one who seeks only human love to quench his or her thirst will be thirsty always for mere human love,” the Bishop said. Human love can never satisfy the depths of the human heart, especially when it’s sought selfishly or sinfully, he said. “But those who seek the love of God will never lack, will never be emptied and will never thirst in vain. The more one thirsts, the more Jesus will fill them with His own thirst for them, which is His love.”

A child of God by virtue of baptism

Dana Catherine, a singer and speaker from Nashville, gave her testimony of conversion while in college. Although a perfectionist and a faithful Catholic who had many achievements and popularity in high school, she found herself facing rejection and failure in college.

“I was defined especially by what other people thought of me. We have a natural desire for people to want people to like us and think highly of us, to be accepted and loved. But ultimately I defined myself by my success and being in control of my life. It was my pride, honestly,” she said.

She was not popular in college, partly because of her faith. She didn’t enjoy the party scene and, thus, missed out on the connections that she said would have been helpful to her. She also struggled earning the grade point average required of pre-med students. She felt as if everything that had defined her – popularity, success and control – had been stripped away.

However, it was in the midst of that suffering and grappling with her identity, that she drew closer to God. Then, she said, she realized that her true identity was to be found in her faith.

“I am a child of God, by virtue of my baptism. What defines me? Not all of those fickle things, all of those unsteady things that waiver. What defines me is not even my love for God. I cannot depend on my love for God because I am human. What defines me is God’s love, God the Father’s love for me,” she said.

No matter what a person has done, or whether or not that person believes in God, she said, God still loves that person. “I am His. He is mine. You are His. He is yours. That is the most beautiful truth and the best news ever,” she said.

Confession: Door to mercy

Father Augustino Torres, a Brooklyn-based priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, continued on the same theme of the God-given dignity of each child of God. He said the Gen Z generation “is getting a bad rap.”

“Do you know your generation is among the most mission-minded going all the way back to World War II? There’s something in your heart that is leading you to want to make this world a better place. The world needs to see that goodness in you,” he said. “There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on today, and you guys are still here.”

Even those whose lives are messy can return to God, said Father Torres in his distinctive Texan Hispanic accent.

“I love tacos! I love to preach about TACOS spirituality: Tell Another Christ Overcomes Sadness,” he joked. “Tacos fall apart, but they are still so good. Our lives are like that; we fall apart but we are still good.”

He based his remarks on the story of the Prodigal Son who expected to be treated no better than his father’s servants when he returned to the father’s house.

Instead, the father adorns him with sandals. “Only slaves went barefoot,” he said. “Nobles wore robes and only heirs wore a ring,” he said, referring to the merciful father’s adorning of his son who had come home, seeking mercy. “You are restored to be an heir, to be my son. That is the message the father had for his son,” Father Torres said. The prodigal felt he had done nothing to deserve such treatment. If we feel that way, it is because we do not understand mercy, Father Torres said.

To illustrate that point, he told the story of a beautiful woman he met on a retreat in New York. The woman told him that she used her beauty in a way that brought her to a “very dark place.” She felt unworthy, not deserving of mercy. “I told her, ‘None of us deserve this mercy. It’s not about your worthiness, but about your worthy-yes,’ ” he told the young woman. “No matter where we come from, no matter what people have said we are, you have a dignity that God has given you as a son or daughter of God.”

“Confession is the key to open the door to mercy,” he told the teens.

Father Torres urged the young people to surround themselves with others who know their identity as sons and daughters of God.

“Some of you have friends who are not leading you to Jesus. You need to evaluate those friendships because they are not really friends.”

Illusionist Danny Ray entertained and mystified the teens with seemingly impossible tricks with coins and cards. For his very last illusion on Friday night, he flipped over cards to spell out a word that a teenager shouted out. As it seemed that Ray knew the word before the teenager spoke it, Ray said that God truly knows a person’s words before they are spoken. He quoted Psalm 139: “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely.”

“God is aware of our hopes, our fears, our dreams,” Ray said. “Maybe you feel like you’ve been running from God, or you feel close to God, or you feel really far from God. Wherever you’re at, God is a God that pursues, who knows you, who loves you and says, ‘You belong with me.’ ”

Young people from Our Lady of the Valley, Caldwell, and surrounding area. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Eastern Idaho was well represented with this group from the Blackfoot area. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Also from eastern Idaho, is this group from the Pocatello area. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Our Lady of the Rosary, Boise, was well-represented. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Traveling perhaps the furthest is this group from the Sandpoint area in northern Idaho. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Also from way up north, this group from the Post Falls area. (ICR photo/Vero


St. Mary’s, Moscow, was one of many parishes from north-central Idaho. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

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