About 175 Catholic young adults from 10 countries will arrive Monday for an international conference at California State University, Stanislaus.
Although the weeklong event is closed for registration, a concluding Mass with Stockton Diocese Bishop Stephen Blaire and priests from other countries is open to the public. That service will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, 2602 S. Walnut Road in Turlock.
Brean Bettencourt, a 24-year-old Turlock resident, is in charge of the conference. She also overseas the U.S. groups of Young Adult Teams of Our Lady (YATOL).
"It's an international young adult Catholic movement built on the principle of youth serving youth," she said. "I got involved when I was about 19 years old. It's been a huge blessing in my life."
Team members who have graduated from high school, are unmarried and between the ages of 18 and 30 are put in groups of six to 12 people who cross parish lines. Led by a married couple with a priest, deacon or nun, the groups meet monthly for a meal, sharing news of their personal lives, asking questions about their faith, and concluding with Scripture reading and prayer. The groups follow the same pattern around the world and are encouraged to get involved in their individual parishes.
The teams, which number about 100 people locally, also gather frequently for social events, Bettencourt said.
"We might have a 'theology on tap' night, invite a priest or a sister or a lay person," she said. "We just went whitewater rafting. Meetings are the backbone, but we have lots of other events."
The international meetings give the members a wider view of Catholic life around the world. The most recent example, Bettencourt said, "was seeing how hard our friends from Syria have tried to come (to the Turlock conference). They had to go through basically a war zone twice to try to get their passports. My counterpart there sent an e-mail saying they weren't able to come and signed it, 'Peace.' That's the opposite of what they're living through in their country right now. They won't be physically present with us, but they'll be there spiritually. We'll be thinking of them."
The week will include seminars, times of worship, daily Mass and fun activities. The participants, even those who live locally, will be staying in the university dorms. After the event, six days of optional sightseeing tours will take YATOL members to Yosemite, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and a tour of a California mission.
Bettencourt and other members have been to international meetings in other countries, including the last one, held in Italy.
"I've really gained an insight into how universal our faith is," Bettencourt said. "Our Syrian brothers and sisters won't be able to come this year, but our Lebanese brothers and sisters will. We may come from different backgrounds and speak different languages, but we have the same faith."
She said YATOL provides a place where young Catholic adults can find friends at a time when many tend to fall away from their faith.
"In the church, there's a weird gap," she said. "There are a lot of programs for you through high school, and for you if you're married, but not much if you're in between. I want people to know there is something out there for them. We want them to connect with others all over the world in their faith. I think a lot of young people are really hungry for this."
YATOL began in France in 1976 and has about 5,000 members in 13 countries: the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Haiti, Lebanon, Syria and Costa Rica. International meetings are held every two to three years; there won't be another one in the United States for about 25 years.
The first U.S. YATOL group began in 2003. According to the group's Web site (www.yatol.net), the Sousa family from Turlock Jorge, his wife, Noelia, and their children, Gabriel and Veronica were visiting Portugal. As they were checking in to fly back to the States, they realized they had left their passports and tickets in the taxi. It turned into a three-day delay to get replacements.
One evening, the Souzas were eating in a restaurant when they heard singing from a group of young adults at another table. The Sousas recognized some of the songs and asked what the group was celebrating. Turns out it was a YATOL group participating in an international meeting, and the participants had been praying for the organization to begin in the United States.
The Sousa family began the program here, and now there are six teams in California, one in Texas and one in Iowa, with teams forming in Oregon, Florida and Virginia.
"We're the youngest country to have a YATOL team," Bettencourt said. "I think it will really explode after this (conference)."
For more information about YATOL, visit www.yatol.net or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the conference, call (209) 678-5384.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at (209) 578-2012 or email@example.com.