Gez Ford, youth minister in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, and the band lead DYC partici-pants in songs of praise. Jeff Bruno photo
Gez Ford, youth minister in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, and the band lead DYC partici-pants in songs of praise. Jeff Bruno photo
Hundreds of youth attending the 2020 Diocesan Youth Conference spent a day of prayer and praise, fun and friendship, and spiritual growth and service with their counterparts from across the Diocese of Trenton. And through it all, they continued to hear a central, inspiring message:

“Don’t tell me you’re the Church of tomorrow. You’re the Church of now.”

Such were the words of Dr. Alex Gotay, or “Dr. G,” one of two keynote speakers at the annual DYC held Feb. 8 in Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River. (See pages 10-11)

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who celebrated Mass, preached about not waiting for the future to bring about positive change. (See pages 6-7)

“My sisters and brothers, you are the light of the world because Jesus is the light of the world first. You reflect his light. He has inspired you, and whoever follows him ‘will have the light of life’ to inspire others. You don’t have to be perfect to inspire others. You inspire others by the way you deal with your imperfections,” he said.

“Today, let’s all make the decision to be inspired and to live that way,” Bishop O’Connell said. “Sometimes later becomes never. Do it now.”


THE DAY KICKED OFF in song, with nearly 650 teens, youth ministers, priests, deacons, religious sisters and more clapping and swaying to music by Gez Ford, youth minister in St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, and the band. Their soundtrack went along with the day’s theme, “Inspired – You are the light of the world,” from the weekend’s Gospel, Matthew 5:13-16.

“Young Church, are you ready to be inspired?” asked Dan Waddington, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. Waddington was joined by Jeff Siedlecki, youth minister in Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, who praised the young people for attending the DYC.

“There are a billion other places you could have been today. But you chose to be here, to be the light. To share your time with your fellow, awesome Catholics, with your fellow, awesome youth group members, with awesome priests,” Siedlecki said.

The DYC included games and prizes, and the announcement that Marietta Racancoj, youth minister from the parishes that make up the Catholic Community of Hopewell Valley, won the #LiveInspired2020 Instagram filter challenge, held in the weeks prior to the DYC. Participants had been asked take a picture or video of someone who inspires them in their faith and post it on Instagram.


EACH PART OF THE DAY had a theme connected to Matthew’s Gospel.

Gotay, a national teen and young adult speaker who serves in campus ministry and teaches theology in Texas, shared his story of growing up in a multicultural household, where faith and a personal relationship with Christ were nonexistent during his youth. He urged the youth to consider faith role models when striving to be “a light in the world.”

In one of her addresses, keynote speaker Leeanna Holmes – development officer of Cross Catholic Outreach, which works globally to overcome physical and spiritual poverty – spoke on the Box of Joy, a ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach.

The teens took part in a Box of Joy service project (See pages 12-13), working in pairs to assemble boxes, and pack them with small toys, school supplies, soap, toothpaste and more as well as notes of encouragement. The boxes will be sent to young people in impoverished countries at Christmas.


THERE WERE MANY OPPORTUNITIES for prayer, too, where all could reflect on the day’s lessons. In addition to Mass with Bishop O’Connell, there was Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – led by Father Martin O’Reilly, pastor of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown.

“See Jesus, he is here with you. He is present. He is here reaching out to you,” said Father O’Reilly, diocesan youth chaplain.

There were more than 20 priests from around the Diocese available to attendees during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Evan Czenis, 17, St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, was thankful for time spent in Adoration and Reconciliation. “I used this time to just be with God and Jesus. A year ago today, I lost my grandfather to cancer.”

Said fellow parishioner, Marissa Serrano, 13, “Today was a roller coaster of emotions. We were happy, we were singing and dancing, and now I needed to take time and think.”