Youth groups collaborate for Anaheim Youth Day

Friday, Mar. 10, 2017
Youth groups collaborate for Anaheim Youth Day + Enlarge
The Catholic Youth Connection Youth Group from Utah poses for a group photo at the 2017 Los Angeles Youth Day in Anaheim.

LOS ANGELES — Students of the newly formed Catholic Youth Connection Youth Group joined those from the long-established St. John the Baptist Youth Group to attend Mass, hear keynote speakers and celebrate their Catholicity with thousands of young Catholics from across America at the 2017 Los Angeles Youth Day.
Youth Day is a part of the L.A. Religious Education Congress held in Anaheim, Calif. 
“It is a day just for youth from many different backgrounds throughout the Archdiocese – and beyond – to participate in a rally, liturgy and workshops focused just for them,” according to the Los Angeles Youth Day’s website. 
The Utah youth groups hopped into a bus on Feb. 22, and drove all day to California. When they arrived on Feb. 23, the day the Los Angeles Youth Day began, they were greeted by over 10,000 other Catholics, ready to worship God and learn more about him. 
The presentations were unveiled to the Catholic youths in the Anaheim Convention Center, where young people cheered as Catholic musicians entertained the crowd. 
“It was kind of like a mini-concert, just for us,” said Alannah Clay, a senior at Juan Diego Catholic High School and the president of the St. John the Baptist Youth Group. 
When the music died down, the speakers rose up to take their place on stage, all talking about the theme of this year’s Youth Day: “What Are You Waiting For?” 
Catholic blogger Mark Hart gave a message that Clay said really hit home for her. His message was that, despite all the negativity and anger in politics and in the world right now, “there are so many people, so many youths who can change the world,” Clay said.
Alex Fierro, a junior at West High School and a member of the Catholic Youth Connection Youth Group, said he thought the event was an incredible experience. “I learned there’s a lot more to the Catholic Church than you think. There’s a different, deeper meaning to everything you do.”
Michelle Ahrens, one of the Catholic Youth Connection Youth Group leaders, said she was surprised to see the effect the L.A. Youth Day had on members of her group. 
“It was cool to hear how powerful the experience was for them. On the ride home, they were in the back of the bus praying together, and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’” she said with a laugh. 
Being able to collaborate with other young Catholics was one of the best things about the Youth Day, Ahrens said. “They felt like they didn’t have to hide. It was a moment (for them) to be proud as Catholics. It’s important sometimes to get out of our day-to-day routines and have those moments that jumpstart our faith.” 
Many of the Utah students had never attended a Youth Day before.
“It was an amazing experience, seeing so many Catholics all in one room together, praising God,” Clay said. 
The Catholic Youth Connection Youth Group, comprised of students from the St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center and the Cathedral of the Madeleine parishes, was formed last September by Michelle Ahrens and Catherine Coffey, both of whom came to Utah as part of the University of Notre Dame’s ECHO program. They jumped at the chance to share a bus to Los Angeles with St. John the Baptist’s youth group, Ahrens said.
The St. John’s group has attended the Youth Day for the past 14 years, but this was the first year that another youth group went with them, said Deacon Paul Graham, the group’s director.
The combination of the groups ended up working very well for both sides, he said, and he said he hopes to collaborate with others in the future.
“The collaborations with other Catholic youth groups in particular is incredibly rewarding; the fruits are the relationships built, strengthening of our faith, social justice initiatives and if God wills it, vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life,” Deacon Graham said. “I admit, the logistics for multiple groups can be a challenge, but it is so worth it.” 

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