Salina — Speakers Paul J. Kim and Sarah Swafford are often in the same speaking circuit — both recently speaking at the SEEK conference for college youth, and slated to speak at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis this fall. But youth in the Salina Diocese won’t have to wait until November to hear their message. The duo are the keynote speakers at this year’s annual CYO Convention, March 23-24 in Salina. The theme for this year’s conference is “Come As You Are.” The weekend event will again be at St. Mary Grade School and Sacred Heart Junior-Senior High School at 234 and 304 E. Cloud in Salina. It will include the speakers, sacraments, election of the new board, adult and CYO recognition, as well as a dance Saturday night and closing Mass Sunday afternoon.
A Kansas native, Swafford said she is excited to present at her first large-scale convention in the Salina Diocese. “I love the rural environment,” she said. “I graduated with 18 people from my class in the middle of a corn field.” She is known nationally for her ministry, Emotional Virtue, that encourages listeners to build a relationship with God, and foster Christ-centered friendships and relationships. “My goal is to help people see and understand what keeps them from a relationship with our Lord and trying to help them heal through the power of the confessional and a deep relationship with Our Lord and others,” she said. Building strong friendships can be difficult, especially in high school. And especially for young men. “You have to have a group of guys you’re fighting for and along side of,” she said. “The relationship (male teens) need to work with is having good guy friends and learn how to build friendships with women. The same is true for the women. They need to have good female friends and run together, alongside their male friends.” With the strong technology force driving youth, she said the pressure to be perceived as “perfect” or flawless is immense. “Your worth or dignity played out by likes or followers or what people say on social media,” Swafford said. “I talk a lot about what tears us and others down and how it effects how we’re in relationship with each other. “I also speak about friendship on what it means to be true friends. What does it look like for men and women to be friends? How does that work in a world that is obsessed with dating or who you are with?”
Kim said it’s vital for youth, especially Catholic youth, to gather in a faith community. “There is value in regional conferences to see they’re not the only Catholic out there,” he said. “A lot of people are catechized, but not evangelized. Scores of Catholics know things about their faith, but don’t have a relationship with God.” When a relationship with Christ is absent, Kim said the natural progression is for someone to fall away from their faith and say ‘I was raised Catholic,’ but not actively practice the Catholic faith — and sometimes no faith at all. Raised Catholic, Kim said he attended church for two reasons: “Girls and donuts,” he said. “When there’s no heart to heart connection with the Lord, it’s an intellectual exercise,” Kim said of church attendance. It can lead to youth thinking “ ‘It’s what my parents made me do’ or ‘I don’t need this archaic religion.’ It’s a sad state of affairs. I’m here to try to reach a generation and bring them to that encounter with Christ.” He utilizes his own testimony, as well as comedy and music to connect with his audience.
Both speakers say it’s vital for youth to gather and spend time experiencing God. “There is value in regional conferences to see they’re not the only Catholic,” Kim said. Swafford agreed. “Sometimes it’s good for youth to connect with others who have similar struggles so they know they’re not alone,” she said. She hopes the weekend will allow the teens to “reset and refocus” their relationship with Christ. Kim, who has been speaking to youth for about a decade, has released two music albums. He presents to an average of 40,000 people annually at events throughout the world. He has a bachelor’s in philosophy from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio and a master’s in marriage and family therapy from Hope International University in California. Kim also went through religious formation with the Community of the Franciscans Friars of the Renewal (NYC). He and his wife are preparing to welcome their third child. Swafford is a 2004 graduate of Benedictine College, where she studied theology and business. She and her husband, Andy, have been married for 13 years and they have four children: Thomas (12), Fulton (11), Cate (7), Kolbe (3) and baby boy Swafford due in April 2019.