Attending the final main campus Steubenville youth conference (July 12-14) Friday night, I realized there’s something about these youth conferences that isn’t found at any of the other conferences throughout the summer. Of course, the adult conferences are excellent and inspiring in their own right, but there’s something significant about 1,000+ teenagers kneeling reverently in Adoration, giving friendly high-fives and “free hugs” to other participants, or standing in lengthy lines for confession.
There’s something special about these conferences because these high schoolers, despite their brokenness, struggles with the culture, and intense pressure to discover themselves… are the future of our Catholic Church.
It’s easy to look at the roaring powerhouses of excitement packed in Franciscan University’s Finnegan Fieldhouse — complete with thrown around beach balls; “We love Jesus yes we do, we love Jesus how ’bout you?” shouting contests between both sides of the gym; and, especially this past weekend, a booming burst of the Cha-Cha Slide line dance over the speakers — and see nothing but a lot of adrenaline and little substance.
But there is something more.They present themselves differently from their parents and grandparents, but many of these kids have the same passion for the faith that generations before them boasted of. And the weekend youth conferences are a way to help them cultivate this passion.
These weekends are a time of dynamic opportunities for conversion, conversation with God, and personal growth in the faith, even for teens who are not completely sure why they ended up at the conference to begin with. Speaker Brian Kissinger’s Friday evening welcome address to all the different types of participants encouraged them to be open to whatever the Lord had in store for them.
Telling the story of his recently-born daughter, Kissinger compared waiting for his baby’s birth to God’s patient waiting for us to come to him.
“When my daughter showed up that day in the hospital, we were not surprised. We had been waiting and waiting — and not just for those nine months, but for our whole lives, to be parents,” said Kissinger. “I don’t know if you want to be here, or you kind of want to be here, or you definitely don’t want to be here. But hear this: God is not surprised that you’re here. God has been waiting for this weekend with you to have that time to have your attention.”
Father Brian Barr, another speaker for this weekend, used blunt imagery to remind the high schoolers to be willing to dig deeper and grow closer to Christ: “He’s gunning for you. He’s aiming at you heart. He wants to hit you right at the heart with his love, and open it up. He’s got something to say to everyone one of us this weekend.”
The Friday evening session was highlighted by a period of eucharistic Adoration and gave the reason why one should be at the conference at all. Complete with wafts of sweet incense, solemn altar servers fading into the background, and soulfully contemplative music by Bob Rice’s band, Father Barr carried the shining gold monstrance up to the altar at the front for a holy half-hour. There, facing the participants, was Jesus, under the appearance of mere bread, come to meet each person there in an intimate way.
Kneeling reverently before God, in youth group t-shirts, sneakers, and wristbands, but with their hearts wide open, was the future of the Church– the new generation. That’s the “something significant” I referenced earlier: the Church will be in good hands.
I can’t wait to see how the rest of this weekend goes, and I’m excited for what’s in store for the participants.
Until next time!