On Saturday 23 February, 150 gathered for the fourth National Parish Youth Conference hosted by Tullamore Junior Parish Pastoral Council. The theme of the conference was “Life is a Gift”.

The Day began with a terrific band – Ruaile Buaile – entertaining the guests with their lively music. They also played at different stages throughout the day and also during the lunch time. Niamh Burke, Chairperson of the JPPC, welcomed everyone to the conference and introduced Mr. Will Faulkner from Midlands Radio 103 who was the MC for the day. He began by interviewing Joan Freeman from Pieta house who spoke about self-harm, suicide and cyber bullying. She shared her experience of Pieta House and of the great work that takes place there. Joan stressed the need of getting help when feeling down and the importance of listening.

Following Joan, Ciara Molloy who is currently studying for her Leaving Certificate in June gave a presentation on “In pursuit of happiness” and following that everyone chatted in groups on ways of finding true happiness and discovered that sometimes by helping others by getting involved in our community and helping build community we can discover happiness and peace of mind.

At mid-day guests had the opportunity to attend one of four workshops. Sr Genny Hassey led a workshop with members of the JPPC on how to set up a Junior Parish Pastoral Council in a parish. They shared the journey of the Tullamore JPPC, of how it began in 2006 and what the activities they are involved in throughout the year, their monthly meetings and outreach to their peers.

Cara Egan and her team of young people led the workshop on “How to set up a youth prayer group”. They shared their experience of setting up the Sunday evening youth prayer group which meets every Sunday evening in Tullamore. The group was set up in September 2011 by the JPPC as a way of reaching out to their peers. Cara reminded those attending the workshop that, while the prayer group is focused on prayer, a lot more happens at it. It provides space for young people to gather and chat and make friend s in a safe space, games are played refreshments are served and music played, and only then are all present ready to pray together and discuss the Gospel of the day.

Jonny Somerville, National Coordinator from Youth Alpha Ireland, gave a workshop on introducing Youth Alpha to your parish. Youth Alpha is a course that is being used by groups all around the world to help young people explore the character and claims of Jesus. Over 10 weeks the course looks at topics from ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘Why did Jesus die?’ to ‘How & why should I read the Bible?’.  Jonny explained that the course normally runs over ten weeks, plus a weekend or day away towards the end. Youth Alpha shares the same important elements as any Alpha course – food, a talk, and small group discussions.

The fourth workshop was given by “Without Walls”, a band composed of worship leaders from different churches, denominations, and worship styles united by their passion for God and a burden to see our country know Jesus. They led a workshop which really moved the young people and demonstrated to them how music worship using bass guitars, drums, piano, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, as well as voice is very acceptable and pleasing to God in prayer.

During lunch Anthony O Connor, a first year college student, performed some card tricks and to everyone’s amazement walked and lay on broken glass without a cut or scratch!

After lunch, Will interviewed Scott Evans who has just finished his first decade in youth ministry, he shared his story about being bullied as a child and how he coped with it. He explained how friendship with God gave him back meaning in life and self-worth. Scott has written a book called “Closer Still”.

Following Scott’s interview, Will introduced Jerome Scully and Patrick Walsh, pupils from Colaiste Choilm just back from India.  They explained how a group of thirteen students and three teachers went to Mumbai in India as part of the India Immersion Project. They are continuing a tradition that started in 2000 and this is the fifth visit. They linked up with the Christian Brothers in Mumbai where they run Our Lady of Salvation School. They were involved in Assisting in the Mother Teresa Centre “Ashadan”; Working with the homeless and abandoned in the Yuva shelter Dadar; Teaching English to young children under the direction of Bro. John Steinmyer in the CBS school; Working in the Don Bosco Shelter for street children; Visiting outreach centres. Jerome explained that the aim of the project was for students and teachers to live and work in the developing world so as: To be exposed to the basic needs of others. Everyone in the hall was moved by their story which was obvious in the amount of questions directed to them after the interview.

The last hour of the conference was dedicated to prayer. This was far from boring as music was led by “Without Walls” and a power talk was delivered by Scott Evans. He quoted C S Lewis “You don’t have a soul, you have a body, you are a soul”. He told the story of how kids at Christmas play with the box and wrapping which held the gift and ignore the gift and that sometimes we can spend our lives absorbed in the wrapping and box of our lives and never actually discovered the real gift – our life.

The JPPC would like to thank all the guests and speakers who attended from around the country and making this conference a great success. Details of next year’s National Parish Youth Conference to be announced later in the year.