By Andres Neria – Salesian Young Adult
(Camp St. Francis, CA) – Salesian Youth Leadership Conference, or SYLC, just took place at Camp St. Francis in Aptos, California in the third week of June, where more than 75 youth leaders gathered to learn from and support each other in their ministries. The week started out with a bang with a musical about the life of Don Bosco. Spirit Team members gave the performance of their lives with incredible solos from Jose, Camille, and Br. James, backed by strong harmonies from Steven, Nathaniel, Andrea, Rudy, Sean, William, Helen, Tyler, Matt, Delano, Quang, Izzy, and Emily, all under the artful direction of Br. Al Vu and Damien Ho.
The musical introduced Don Bosco to youths in the audience not from Salesian sites, while reintroducing him to those whohave known him their whole lives through a slew of powerful songs like “Beautiful City” and “Don Bosco Teacherand Friend”. The musical set
the tone for SYLC and filledthe youth participants with anticipation for the week to come.The first full day of SYLC was filled with four informative sessions by witty and charismatic speakers like Br. Jhoni, Br. James Nguyen, Br. Al Vu, Fr. John Roche, Kris Tran, Damien Ho, and Sean Roche. The participants were introduced to the four components of the Salesian Oratory: Home, School, Church, and Playground through the four sessions. This was useful to know because later that evening Spirit Team presented Salesian Youth Spirituality through six prayerful activity stations.
The idea of youth holiness, sprinkled throughout the day in the learning sessions and the spirituality stations, was the center of night prayer, which was planned by Spirit Team Prayer Committee led by Br. Jhoni and Emily. They introduced a few of the young saints and blessed youths within the Salesian family and told of their stories as a way to inspire the participants to grow in their own holiness. It seemed almost fitting that while these youth partici pants contemplate their own journey to holiness the camp itself experienced a power outage, and every one was left in the dark. The first full day of SYLC ended on a contemplative yet exhilarating note.
Wednesday involved another rotation of sessions by yet more great speakers like Fr. Mel, Andrew Coffey, and Enrique Diaz. The sessions focused on effective communication, a skill we all need to continually practice to improve upon. Br. James and Spirit Team youth and adults ran the leadership stations after dinner. The leadership stations activity was the first time all the participants truly engaged themselves in an activity so fully at SYLC. None stood by the sidelines and simply watched. Even the adults were engaged with a few wanting to jump in with a group and participate.
Through Br. James’s thoughtful activity debrief, the participants realized just how important effective communication and teamwork were to successfully complete the stations. The night continued with a campfire by the bluff led by Izzy and Camille. They invited many adults to share their talents with the participants,Br. Al withhis chants, Armando with his Tucci, Vince with his beautiful voice, Rudy with his Green Day cover, and Enrique Diaz with his Michael Jackson dance. Campfire remained one of the most memorable activities of SYLC 2016. The night ended with the Mission Rosary. The participants seemed to transition seamlessly into prayer. Many of them had not experienced a procession before so this spiritual experience was both new and powerful.
Thursday’s Emmaus Banquet provided the participants a glimpse into the lives of the millions of young people living in poverty around the world. All the participants were divided up into different countries and they had just a few exotic foodslocal to that country like fish head, pig intestine, chicken gizzard, yams, and beans to eat as their dinner. One participant, Gabe,was chosen at random to be the privileged “1%”, who was served a lavished multi-course dinner which included a salad, fried chicken, personal pizza, pasta, a Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks, soda, and a fudge brownie with raspberries. Some of the participants felt enviousnot having all that food, food that they know and love. Not given any direction on what to do, Gabe decided to hand out all of his food to the different “countries”. More importantly, he not only shared his food but sat down and ate with different groups. Gabe showed us that as the “1%” it was not enough to just give out of pity, but we need to accompanyand live in solidarity withyouths living in poverty out of love and respect. Some felt the sting of hunger later that night as they headed to bed. But this experience allowed the participants to walk in the footsteps of other less fortunate young people, even if it was for just an evening.
The Emmaus Banquet on Thursday was followed by an equally powerful and poignant activity on Friday, the Immigration Simulation: “Walk in My Shoes”. The participantswere given the role of immigrants, both legal and illegal, on their way towards finding more stable lives for them and their families. On their journey they faced tough and corrupt border control officers, traffickers trying to trick them into trafficking themselves for money, racist sweatshop owners, immigration workers who don’t speak their language, and healthcare workers who can’t help them because they don’t have money. They were stuck in this game that they did not know the rules to (no one knew which station they had to go to next) and had no idea how to win, all the while trying to keep their families together. None succeeded. A few broke down and cried. Some pretended it was only a game and laughed their way through it.
SYLC’er looking out for his family during the “Walk in my Shoes” Immigration simulation
But deep down all knew that somewhere this was the reality that millions of young people face every day as the refugee and migration crisis continue tosilentlyrage on in Europe and the Americas. This thought-provoking activity helped open the participants to adoration and reconciliation later that evening, where many young people took advantage of the availability of the priests and went to confession, even late into the night.
Before anyone was quite ready, Saturday had come and SYLC was comingto an end. Participants were ready to go home, see their friends and family, and most importantly sleep. But a part of them wanted SYLC, the tight-knit community they had formed there to go on longer. All of the youth leaders were commissioned by Fr. Ted Montemayor, the Provincial, at the Commissioning Mass to mark their sending forth into their own missions. To keep in the spirit of SYLC, the contemplative atmosphere of the Commissioning Mass had to be balanced with the entertainingand loudenergy of the last SYLC social, Café Don Bosco, where Spirit Team members Sean, Quang, Damien and adult Kris Tran graced us with their unforgettable rendition of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Aerosmith.
Participants and Spirit Team danced and karaoke for hours into the night. The night ended with a touching slideshow clip of the journey that was SYLC 2016, all the friendships made and the lessons learned. Now, weeks after SYLC had ended, to all those that were a part of SYLC 2016, in the wise words of Damien Ho, Spirit Team Coordinator, “those glimpses of SYLC are now a reminder, as well as an invitation, for us to continue to go out there and be of service to others.”