FAIRFIELD—Heavy winds and sideways hail is how Convivio began this year, much like the first which was held almost a decade ago in 2010. This year the annual high school retreat, with the theme “Made for More,” was kicked off with a nor’easter. One might describe this occurrence as “God humor,” as will be the last year Convivio will be held with the Fraternas; the Lord might have found it funny to bookend this era with winter storms.
Over the past nine years, Convivio has been an impactful experience for thousands of teens. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a story that began with “I wasn’t really into my faith, but then one year at Convivio…” and the rest is history.
This year was no different. Over 200 teens gathered together at Sacred Heart University from March 2-4 to hear talks from dynamic speakers, talk about and live out their faith with their peers, and to experience Christ is the Eucharist.
The theme “Made for More” was intended to push participants to go deeper with the knowledge that God desires heaven for us. Participants learned that the path to heaven may result in being called out of our comfort zones, out of “the norm,” out of our sin, in order to experience something greater that He has created us for.
In regards to the ninth Convivio, Gabe Bitencourt, freshman at Sacred Heart University and member of the youth board claimed “this year did not disappoint. It was one of the best ones I have taken part in the past five years I’ve been involved. Made for More was one of the most relevant topics to discuss because it spoke on the dignity and call to greatness that we all have.”
Bitencourt, like many others on the board, has spent past Convivios in different roles; being a participant and the president of Convivio 2017. This year he was one of the alumni that helped with the planning, group leading, and taking care of logistics behind the scenes.
What makes Convivio unique is that is created by youth for youth. Over the past nine months, former participants in the retreat over the years helped bring this weekend to life. Alongside the Fraternas it is those whose lives have been impacted by programs like these who have such a desire to serve the youth today.
Jessica Mazal, a teacher at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield, has been involved with Convivio since the beginning. “Looking back at the last nine conferences,” says Mazal, “and now, from the eyes of a teacher, this Convivio really moved me.” Mazal spoke about the passion and desire that the teens had to build their own relationship with Christ and furthermore, to help the other participants, their own classmates, go deeper as well.
“The group leaders were unashamed witnesses to Jesus, and it was so apparent that the participants’ positive experiences were directly related to the way their peers evangelized with joy. This spirit of encounter at Convivio, with others and with Christ, has only grown,” Mazal proclaimed.”
The young adults who continuously come back to help for the weekend are intended to be models for the high schoolers. However, as the weekend went on, it was eminent that the teens were the ones providing hope with their witness.
Through Convivio, students are given the opportunity to proclaim their faith to others and to act as apostles to those around them. It gives them the skills not only for evangelization during the weekend, but for the rest of their lives.
Alexandra Justo is one of many students whose faith has grown immensely over the years as she’s participated in Convivio. “It’s is truly a life changing experience for all high school students,” said Justo “it helps the youth to love who they really are and allows them to see the unwavering love that Christ has for us.”
In regards to her last Convivio as a student, Justo claims its experiences like this that brought her to where she is today.
“It has made me feel called to be a student leader at my school and within my parish. I was elected to be president of Campus Ministry at Lauralton Hall and decided to further my knowledge of Catholicism at Sacred Heart University in the fall. Convivio has made me proud to be a teen Catholic,” exclaimed Justo.
Many of those involved in Convivio whether it be as group leaders, volunteers, or on the youth board, remember how difficult it is to be a high school student trying to grow deeper in their faith. You are constantly surrounded by brokenness and living out the life Christ is calling us to can seem taboo. The opportunity to get away from all of that, even for one weekend, is impactful being belief for these teens.
As our hearts break for the loss of the Fraternas as they move on to continue God’s plan for them in different parts of the world, one thing that we don’t have to worry about is a loss of zeal in our faith community. As it is written in the Gospel of John chapter 14 verse 18, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” It is clear even now that the Lord is coming to us through our peers and the witness of our young people; we will not be left orphan.
by Priscilla Mahar