Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrates Mass in this prerecorded video shown at the DYC, which was virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Jeff Bruno
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrates Mass in this prerecorded video shown at the DYC, which was virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jeff Bruno

Though they may not have been standing shoulder to shoulder inside a school gymnasium as in years past, the teens attending the 2021 Diocesan Youth Conference bridged the distance on social media.

Teens from throughout the Diocese of Trenton gathered virtually on the diocesan YouTube channel Feb. 6 to search for God’s plan for their lives. This year’s theme was taken from the words of Jesus’ disciples in the Gospel of Mark: “Everybody is looking for you.” (Mark 1:37).

The program of prayer, interactive games, discussions, a keynote talk and the airing of a prerecorded Mass celebrated by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., united the attendees and reminded them to search for Jesus in their lives.

“We are never socially distant from God,” the Bishop said in his homily. He implored the teens to search for the Lord and pray “in every moment, in every experience in life, the tough times and also in the good times.”

Noting that the pandemic may cause everyone to grieve the loss of time with friends, milestones and the death of loved ones, Bishop O’Connell reminded the youth, “You are not alone in this. You must search for his will, his wisdom, his presence, his grace and power, his guidance to face whatever comes. Jesus comes to those who seek him.”

Staying Connected

From the moment the DYC web link went live, half an hour in advance of the 3 p.m. start time, the chat was almost immediately filled with more than 1,000 individuals bridging the virtual reality gap by saying hello, answering ice breaker questions and participating in the event. As of Feb. 9, the video link had 3,257 total views.

Multiple teens from youth groups throughout the Diocese of Trenton, safely at home, bid their fellow attendees a good time; youth group ministers also chimed in, wishing their teens to “enjoy the search.”

From St. John Vianney High School in Holmdel, the DYC was broadcast live with the DYC band, four teens, youth ministers and diocesan staff.

Photo Gallery: 2021 Virtual DYC

The band, led by Gez Ford, youth minister in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, sang, “Open up the heavens, we want to see you,” then Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, moderated the two-hour DYC that was part comedic, part prayerful, but all upbeat.

“I don’t know why you decided to come today, but something where you are in your life brought you to this place,” Waddington said, revealing that a total of 1,100 individuals from more than 57 parishes had registered for the event. “It is not a mistake. God has a plan and a purpose. You have to be open to it.”

The four teens who represented the hundreds watching electronically, laughingly rummaged through a large box to find toys then answered questions on pop culture and Scripture, their homebound counterparts participating via the internet. Pre-registered attendees had entered a contest for a free gaming system and DYC T-shirts; winners were announced after the event.

“I am so excited to be together through the Holy Spirit and our Catholic faith,” noted Waddington as he introduced the keynote speaker, Chris Padgett. Padgett, a convert to Catholicism who has earned his master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio, told the audience that Jesus is searching for them because he wishes to heal, bless, love and fill them.

“Bring him all your aches, all you lack,” Padgett said in his video keynote. “God is real and he is aching with you. I can show you that your broken heart fits perfectly in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”