Virtual SHYCON Urges Youth to Be Ready


By Tony DeGol

The saga had a happy ending, but years later, it still gives Jonathan Jerome plenty of opportunity for reflection.

As the keynote speaker of virtual SHYCON 2020, Jerome recalled a frightening experience he encountered while volunteering at Camp Timothy, the diocesan summer camp for high school students.

A bus carrying him, the campers, and others got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere during a torrential rain. As an adult leader at Camp T, Jerome was pressed into action to not only reassure the youth on the bus, but to also assist the bus driver in navigating the huge vehicle off of the road. With no cell service, he also had to venture into the elements to find a stranger’s phone to notify others back at the camp of their quagmire. 

“I was not ready, I had no experience, and I was terrified,” Jerome admitted to the SHYCON participants. “And often as we think about these valleys of our lives, we’re not ready, we’re scared, and we’re wandering, praying that God is with us, but not being certain. We have no sense of where or how He might be at work in this situation.”

The theme of virtual SHYCON 2020 was “Find Us Ready, Lord.”

So how do we become ready as we encounter unexpected trials on our life journey and look to build on our relationship with the Lord?

Jerome encouraged the youth to find God in the beauty of the Church, in the truth and teachings of the Church, and in the way they reach out to others in need.

“We live in an odd time, but if we are open to finding God present in all things, especially in the beauty, the truth, and the service that we commit ourselves to, then us not being ready, or us being sacred, all of a sudden starts to fade away,” Jerome mentioned.

The Saints, Jerome added, provide great examples of people who looked to beauty, truth, and service to serve God and others.

“If we think about these people and the examples that they set and the torch they passed on to us that we are now called to continue on with, that’s the starting point on how and where we practically begin to put into practice this idea of ‘Find Us Ready, Lord,’” he said.

Sponsored by the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Office of Youth Ministry, SHYCON – short for Senior High Youth Conference – is usually held at Saint Francis University with about 800 young people from throughout the eight-county diocese in attendance.

Since large group gatherings are not possible in this time of pandemic, SHYCON was sponsored virtually this year with students watching at home or with their classmates at parishes. Organizers hosted the event from the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Altoona.

One of the most special parts of the experience was Eucharistic Adoration with Bishop Mark.

In his reflection, the Bishop noted the Gospel of the day in which one of the Pharisees asked Jesus about the greatest commandment.

It was a trick question, Bishop Mark explained, because the Pharisee thought it would be a challenge for Jesus to say that one of the 10 Commandments is greater than the rest.

“But Jesus was ready for the challenge,” the Bishop stated. “He was able to take all of the laws and rules of faith and put them into two simple rules for us to follow: love God and love others. I hope you noticed that Jesus is saying that all the rules that guide us in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others are about one thing: Love.”

After the Bishop’s reflection in the Pastoral Center Chapel, the camera focused on the Eucharist with music playing softly. It was an opportunity for quiet time with the Lord.

Although the in-person crowd was missed, the virtual platform was a success, and organizers hope the hundreds of young people who participated carried something with them.

“Let it be a constant reminder that we are the ones responsible to be ready for that second coming,” urged diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator Francine Swope. “We are the ones that are supposed to be working for Jesus and with Jesus toward building that kingdom here where we’re working, loving, serving, and doing His will.”

Editor’s Note: More highlights of virtual SHYCON 2020 on Proclaim! TV on November 1 at 10:30 a.m. on WATM ABC 23.

[Photos: (Top) Bishop Mark presents a virtual reflection before Eucharistic Adoration during SHYCON. (First Inset) Jonathan Jerome delivers a virtual keynote address. (Second Inset) Planning team members listen to a speech while assisting with the live SHYCON broadcast at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.]