Over 30 youth, young adult leaders, volunteers, and clergy from the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma gathered together on June 15-16th, 2017 at Cheeseman Farm in Portersville, Pennsylvania for the annual Eparchial Youth Days (formerly known as Acolyte and Youth Convention).
The theme of this year’s convention was “Diakonia: Serve & Do Good” in reference to Mark 10:45 and was dedicated to the ‘Year of Diakonia’ – service to one’s neighbor – a theme that the Ukrainian Catholic Church has chosen to commemorate in 2017.
The youth event – led by Bishop Bohdan Danylo, Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma – was organized by the Eparchial Youth Committee under the leadership of Fr. Lubomyr Zhybak, the committee’s director and pastor of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Youngstown, OH and St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church in Austintown, OH; Fr. Joseph Matlak, co-director of the committee and administrator of St. Basil the Great Ukrainian Catholic Mission in Charlotte, NC; Deacon Myron Spak of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, PA; Subdeacon Joseph Zappernick, Mr. Joseph and Michael Levy, Eparchial Youth Days event coordinators, and Mrs. Lisa Hladio. It provided an opportunity for the youth to experience diakonia in the spirit of the Ukrainian Catholic faith and fellowship.
Connecting to the ‘Year of Diakonia’ in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the theme of the gathering was focused on service to one’s neighbor. The two-day event began with morning prayer followed by a presentation provided by Michael Levy that explained diakonia using His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk’s Pastoral Letter: “The Vibrant Parish – A Place to Encounter the Living Christ.” The youth were divided into working groups and developed strategies in which diakonia could be implemented in their parish communities and social environments. The collaborative brainstorming session proved to be both engaging and poignant.
The retreatants were welcomed with warm hospitality by the Cheeseman Farm staff and family. The Cheeseman Farm camp site is located within the McConnell’s Mill State Park and offered rustic cabins and hillside huts, hiking trails, scenic vistas, and a picturesque creek. The youth had an opportunity to take a ‘prayer hike’ in which Vespers were sung by the youth, young adult leaders, clergy, and Bishop Bohdan. It was a unique and spiritually moving experience. The youth also played outdoor sports activities, including ‘bubble bump soccer’ – a game in which participants play soccer while incased in inflatable plastic bubble suits. The soccer concept and outdoor activities were greatly enjoyed by the retreatants!
The retreatants participated in active diakonia. Bohdan Mykhailiv, a young adult leader from Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, PA, coordinated a service project in which the youth assembled sandwiches for The Light of Life Rescue Mission in Pittsburgh, PA – a homeless shelter providing food for the needy. The prepared sandwiches were delivered by Deacon Myron Spak to the mission. The first day concluded with a ‘Ukrainian style’ camp fire in which the youth enjoyed singing, skits, and fellowship.
The second day began with the morning prayer followed by the Divine Liturgy, presided over by Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo and concelebrated by Fr. Lubomyr Zhybak and Fr. Joseph Matlak. Upon the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Bishop Bohdan addressed the present participants and discussed the life and ministry of His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, Major-Archbishop-Emeritus of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, who recently passed away in Ukraine, within the context of diakonia. The bishop provided anecdotes, personal reflections, and examples in which His Beatitude Lubomyr lived a life dedicated to diakonia. Fr. Lubomyr Zhybak also shared some personal experiences of having lived and worked with late Cardinal Husar in Ukraine. The perspectives were candid and motivational.
The youth likewise competed in the customary “Who Wants to be a Millionaire (Religious Edition)” game. The game challenged the youth with their knowledge of Catechism and encouraged them to learn more about their faith.
Much of the convention was centered on prayer. All of the divine services were beautifully sung by the young attendees. An examination of conscience, led by Fr. Michael Polosky, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Ambridge, PA and of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Aliquippa, PA, was provided in preparation for the Mystery of Repentance that was preceded by the celebration of the Ninth Hour led by Right Reverend Archimandrite George Appleyard, the eparchy’s Protosyncellus. Bishop Bohdan and the present priests were available for confession afterwards.
The Eparchial Youth Days retreat was a wonderful, prayerful, and engaging event for the youth of the eparchy. The next gathering is planned for June 14-15, 2018 at Cheeseman Farms in Portersville, PA.