World Meeting of Families logoAt the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, families are encouraged to attend together, children included. But while Mom and Dad are listening to keynote speakers and attending breakout sessions, the question arises: What do you do with the kids? Maria Richardson has the answer: The answer is, bring them to the Youth Congress.

Running concurrent with its “adult” counterpart Sept. 22-25, the Youth Congress is envisioned as a more universal experience, designed to appeal to young people ages 6-17 who are attending with their families.

More “experiential” in its scope and composed of a variety of age-appropriate activities, the congress is aimed at facilitating faith-sharing and catechesis, but with a more-hands-on and fun approach.

“Because there are going to be so many people there, and so many languages, we wanted to focus on visual and experiential activities,” said Maria Richardson, who is the Youth Congress’ director for the World Meeting of Families. “The experience itself will be a learning experience.”

Activities are designed to instruct, some more explicitly than others.

“At one point, we were managing 5,000 rosaries as part of a 10,000-item Sacramental Scavenger Hunt,” said Sister William Catherine Brannen, I.H.M., vice chair of the Youth Congress’organizing committee. “You’ve never seen so many sacramentals in one place.”

At the congress’ Quizzo-trivia contest, participants can test their knowledge of the Catechism and the Bible, while the more theatrically inclined can stage a Gospel drama — with costumes.

“Someone at the Youth Congress could go to a different activity every day and still not exhaust all their options,” said Richardson.

The committee’s leadership was announced this past March 11, and is chaired by Father Stephen DeLacy, the director of the archdiocesan Vocation Office for Diocesan Priesthood at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. So far there are 22 planned activities, some of which are designed for specific age groups, while others are expected to appeal more broadly. Each event is sponsored by a local parish in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which helps in the preparation and setup.

“We have a local grade school already prepping parts for the ‘pope puppets’ group,” said Richardson. “My guess is that as soon as the first group gets out, everyone’s going to want a puppet of the pope. Who wouldn’t?”

The Youth Congress is to be structured around a morning gathering and prayer, after which participants will break off into their chosen activity for the day at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, site of all World Meeting of Families events. Younger children will be chaperoned in groups of six, while high school students will have a little more freedom and responsibility to roam the congress’ location in Exhibit Hall S.

All sessions are supervised by staff, and end with the entire group gathering at the end of each day for prayer and a performance.

“There is even a special song being composed for the Meeting, specifically for the children to learn,” said Sister William Catherine.
In between sessions and at lunch, participants will also be able to relax at one of two “cafes” or break areas: a “Snack Shack” for the younger ones, stocked with healthy and refreshing options, as well as the “Ascension Café,” where older kids can unwind.

The committee is also taking particular care to make sure that families attending with special-needs children will also be accommodated.

Not all components necessarily involve creative arts. Several planned events are geared toward acquainting young people — particularly those in high school — with the religious life and those in it.

“Swinging with the Sisters” will have Philadelphia’s local orders teaching the Lindy Hop and West Coast swing to teenagers; “Shooting Hoops with Seminarians” will have the men of St. Charles Borromeo come out for pick-up basketball games.

“We might even have a few sisters deejaying,” said Sister William Catherine.

Plans are also in place to include the hierarchy as well: in “Bowling with Bishops,” participants in the Youth Congress might even be able to square off their strikes and spares against an Excellency or two on Wii Bowling stations.

“We’ve experienced a tremendous outpouring of support from Philadelphia institutions,” said Sister William Catherine. “The Please Touch Museum is even sending us sections of their foam ‘Imagination Playground’ to install temporarily on site.”

When asked what the Committee for the Youth Congress ultimately wanted participants, children and teenagers alike to walk away with after the World Meeting ended, Father DeLacy emphasized memory.

“The theme, of course, is the ‘family fully alive,’ and there will be thousands of families there,” he said. “We want children to be edified and understand they are a part of a larger tradition and a diverse faith, but we also want to send them home with new friends from around the world and good memories they can reflect back on in a life of faith.”