By Tony DeGol
Deepening her Catholic faith has always been a priority to Marian Stephens, but now more than ever, a relationship with the Lord is a must for the 10th grader.
“In this time where there is sickness and death and disappointment all around me, I need to put my hope and trust in God completely,” said the parishioner of Saint Rose of Lima in Altoona. “Leaning on God is more important than ever right now. He, alone, has gotten me through this time of isolation.”
Recognizing the struggles young people are facing these days and the value of keeping them connected to their faith, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Office of Youth Ministry is turning to technology to evangelize.
The office is planning two virtual nights for youth in specific age groups and a virtual gathering for young adults.
The first event is scheduled for May 20 at 7:00 p.m. for junior high students (grades 6-8).
The theme will be “Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart.” Will Smith will be the presenter.
Smith is the Director of Music at Mother of Sorrows Parish in Murrysville in the Diocese of Greensburg. He is also active in youth ministry outreach and is a past presenter at Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown youth events such as Junior High Youth Day and Senior High Youth Conference (SHYCON).
A virtual gathering is also planned for senior high students (grades 9-12) on May 26 at 7:00 p.m.
Jonathan Jerome will speak on the theme “Facing the Storms of Life.”
Jerome is the Director of the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia and a former campus minister for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He assists with various diocesan youth programs, including the annual summer camps.
Jerome will also be the featured presenter for a virtual gathering for young adults on May 29 at 7:00 p.m. The theme will be “Living with Joy and Hope.”
According to Youth Ministry Coordinator Francine Swope, all three events will happen through Zoom conferencing, and registration is required.
“I thought if we could spend a little bit of time with them in their comfort zone just to give them a little bit of time to really think about what they’ve gone through in the past few months and how it has affected them, but most importantly make them think a little about how their faith has carried them through this,” she said.
Planning teams are working with Swope to organize the virtual gatherings and spread the word among their peers.
The upcoming events are the latest in a series of virtual youth outreach since the pandemic began in mid-March.
Besides engaging young people daily through social media, the Office of Youth Ministry sponsored a week-long virtual series “Journey to the Triduum” during Holy Week and a virtual living Rosary on May 1.
The upcoming summer camps – Camp Timothy and Camp Zacchaeus – will also be hosted virtually this year.
All these efforts are critical right now, maintained Swope, as a way of meeting youth where they are at this remarkable time in history.
“I keep telling our young people that no matter where you are, as long as we’re praying together and staying faithful together, we’ll get through this together,” Swope stated.
Swope’s support and the efforts of her team are appreciated by many, including Stephens.
“Whenever I’m feeling lonely or sad about what’s going on in our world, I turn to the Lord and know that nothing is impossible for God,” she emphasized. “It is extremely important to keep faith right now, and participating in faith based events is a great way to do that.”
[Photo: Siblings Krista and Laura Bach share an inspirational message to youth in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown — part of the Office of Youth Ministry’s daily social media outreach to young people.]