“What are the ECYD boys going to do these days?” This was the question that Father Robert DeCesare, LC, took to prayer as he was preparing for his upcoming spiritual exercises. It was mid-April, and with schools closed, public masses suspended, and gatherings and meetings cancelled, Father Robert knew that there were ECYD boys across North America who would be in their homes, yet still seeking the fellowship and formation they had grown to depend on from their ECYD events and weekly Conquest meetings. The answer came to him: “You have to run a convention.” From here the idea of the ECYD Virtual Convention was born. “We have young men who have such apostolic potential, and we have a platform from which to launch apostles.”
The ECYD Virtual Convention, held on April 25, was a one-day convention that included talks, small group breakout sessions, and apostolic challenges that could be completed in and around the home, and concluded with a virtual Eucharistic celebration. The convention, whose theme was “Be an Apostle,” drew participants from all over the United States and Canada, who were placed together in small groups that would break out for discussions and work as a team at the in-home challenges.
“The young men who participated seemed to greatly love being involved with the small groups,” says Father Robert. “They were trying hard to fulfill different challenges that were offered.” These challenges, inspired by the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, required the boys to perform acts of service within their home or neighborhood, such as cleaning their rooms, calling their grandparents, taking out the trash, or leaving a gift on a neighbor’s doorstep, with points awarded for every challenge completed. “They made a concerted effort to win the competition,” says Father Robert, “the grand prize being an ECYD sweatshirt.”
Thirteen-year-old Conquest member Jackson Joubert was one of the many boys who took in the convention, participating from his home in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. For Jackson, it was the talks presented by the Legionary priests and ECYD leaders that he enjoyed the most. “One guy talked about the ‘society of followers’ that we live in, and it was insightful and got me thinking about my own social stance and if my role models are really the best,” says Jackson.
But what really struck Jackson about the virtual convention was the international scope and size of ECYD. “I was impressed by the amount of people that showed up to the meeting,” says Jackson. “We had people from all over.” Jackson’s small group, for example, was made up of boys and Legionary priests from several different areas, including Canada, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and even Poland. “I have a different view of ECYD,” says Jackson after attending the convention, “and a newfound respect for all that the organization does.”
Fellow Conquest Regina member Shawn Craig-Penner came away from the convention with the same impression. “The ECYD convention was well done,” says Shawn. “My favorite part was seeing boys participate from all over. It was good to see other groups that are alive and active in North America.”
This wider view and broader understanding of ECYD was exactly what Father Robert was hoping the boys would take from attending the convention: “ECYD members need to see the scope of ECYD. Many do not realize how expansive it is. They do things with their local team and in their localities, but they don’t engage with members from other states, provinces, or countries. This convention sought to do that with the small groups, and the boys appreciated the opportunity to share with others on their team.”
Donovan Novak, who is the Product and Resource Specialist for the ECYD Programs Team, also leads the weekly Conquest groups in his hometown of Regina, so it was important for him to encourage his local members to attend the virtual convention and join up with the larger ECYD community. “The convention was a really good opportunity for myself and the boys to connect and reconnect with other ECYD and Regnum Christi members in North America,” says Donovan. “I think the message of Jesus starts to resonate in a young person when they hear it from people around the world. Our guys hear it from their parents and from me every week, but hearing it from someone in another city is powerful.”
Donovan sees virtual events like the ECYD convention as an opportunity to expand the boys’ vision of Conquest and ECYD beyond the borders of their own parish and city. “I’ve always promoted opportunities for international experiences of Christ and the convention facilitated this,” says Donovan. “In my break out team alone, we were from six different locations.”
The virtual convention succeeded in reaching out to the ECYD members who might otherwise be feeling spiritually isolated and inactive. “I think the greatest need for the boys right now is to have a community where they can practice their faith,” says Donovan. “A brotherhood that keeps them accountable and fosters their spiritual growth. A way to rejuvenate the boys spiritually and help them get back on track with their prayer and apostolic life.”
While the Conquest meetings have been suspended and the boys are no longer meeting in-person on a weekly basis, Donovan feels like the COVID-19 crisis has, in fact, created more opportunities for the boys to gather and grow in their faith; besides encouraging his Conquest members to attend the ECYD Virtual Convention, he’s been meeting them daily on a group chat app and leading them through a 15-minute Gospel reflection. “Our guys have the opportunity to meet every day, and we have been able to offer more spiritual experiences now than we could before,” says Donovan, “and those who are attending regularly are growing in their faith more than ever before.”
For Donovan, the current global crisis didn’t create an obstacle to forming apostles, but a new platform with which to reach his members. “This initiative never would have happened without a crisis like we are in,” says Donovan.
And it won’t be the last. “I have done ECYD videoconferences… as a means to help ECYD members grow in their love for Christ, get together, see their friends, and have some formation. That will continue,” says Father Robert. “The ECYD members… have a great love for Christ and want to do something tremendous and awesome with their lives. They want to make a difference.” The virtual convention was just one more way to reach out to the ECYD members and form them to become apostles, starting in their own families, and from their own homes.