Youth encouraged by witness of Tony Melendez
Hundreds of high school-aged youth from across southern Missouri gathered once again in West Plains for the annual Diocesan Youth Conference (DYC) the weekend of March 28-30. The theme of this year’s conference was “Jesus is my Superhero,” with the activities, prayer, and workshops coordinated and hosted by the youth of Holy Trinity Parish in Aurora and SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Pulaskifield.
Mindful of the Scripture verse at Romans 8:31 (“If God is for us, who is against us?”), the conference planning team and speakers emphasized the ‘superpowers’ of Jesus Christ that cannot be overcome or defeated by any earthly power. Christ is the ultimate ‘superhero,’ it was expressed, Who takes away the sins of the world. Keynote speaker Tony Melendez of Branson, MO, witnessed to Christ’s ‘superhero’ role in his own life, as Christ has given him a model to follow as he’s bourn the cross of being born without arms.
Melendez, who has been playing the guitar with his feet for several decades, gave an inspiring witness to the young attendees as he relayed stories of his own youth and overcoming the challenges of his handicap. Melendez’s faith has been his strength, he said, noting that an encounter with soon-to-be-saint Blessed John Paul II in 1987 was a particularly profound confirmation and encouragement of using his talents at the service of Christ.
In addition to hearing Melendez’s story and praying—and occasionally dancing—with Melendez and his band’s accompaniment, the youth had opportunity to attend several workshops facilitated by other adults ministering in the diocese. Workshop topics included the liturgy, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, social justice, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and chastity. Attendees were also given the opportunity for games inside the West Plains Civic Center arena, prayer in a temporary-chapel set up for Eucharistic Adoration, and visits to vendor booths offering Catholic apparel, jewelry, and sacramental & devotional items, and books.
The 285 diocesan youth, DYC youth leaders, and diocesan staff and seminarians at DYC spoke very highly of the annual gathering: Melendez was referred to as a “rockstar,” and one attendee described praying with hundreds of youth as being “the best feeling in the world.”
“DYC was a great experience, as always,” said Ransom Nichols, a youth from St. Mary Parish in West Plains. “Being from a town where Catholics are in the minority, it was amazing to see so many young adults my age with the same faith!”
Conference speaker Cambree Kirchner, who attends St. Charles Community College and is a native of Jackson, MO, commented that she observed that “the youth seemed to really grow in their faith, which is the main goal.”
“DYC is always a great weekend to grow closer with Christ,” Kirchner added. “Hopefully, next year, we can have more people come and experience (DYC).”