GREENVILLE — Each summer, young people from parishes throughout the diocese and the country have the opportunity to attend Life Teen sponsored Steubenville Youth Conferences. These one-of-a-kind weekends are known for inspiring teens and youth groups by offering deep and moving experiences of prayer and fellowship in a way that is fun, relevant and totally Catholic.
Buses filled with 116 excited and faith-filled youth departed St. Philip Church last Friday to take part in the annual Steubenville East Conference held July 13-15 at UMass Lowell which welcomed an estimated 2,500 participants. According to Steubenville Youth Conferences, this summer, more than 50,000 Catholic teens across North America will participate in 25 Steubenville Youth Conferences. The youth of St. Philip Church, accompanied by 21 adult chaperones, parish priest Father Ryan Simas, Deacon Eric Silva and seminarian Noah DaSilva, made up largest group in attendance at Steubenville East this summer.
Melissa Roberts, Youth Minister at St. Philip Church, shared the young men and women of the parish truly strive for sainthood every day, and it is always humbling for her to witness their journey with Christ during a conference that they all voluntarily participate in even leaving their phones at home for the weekend. This year’s conference theme, “Revealed,” was seen in all areas of the weekend, in engaging liturgies, inspiring music and challenging talks. The weekend was also a reminder of God’s love and encouraged youth to ask “how will we allow him to reveal that love and his plan?”
“This year, in particular, was very moving as our upperclassmen really became mentors to our younger youth, leading by example in small group discussions, praying the rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy and inviting them into all the conference had to offer them,” she said. “Additionally, since returning home, they have followed up with their peers with words of encouragement and support.”
“This year, as it happens every year, the conference offered our young people many opportunities to be stretched and grow in their faith; but it is always on Saturday night during the general session, through the keynote and Christ walking amongst our young people that leaves a lasting impression on our young people.”
Roberts added that speaker Lisa Cotter’s keynote address posed a powerful question to the young people in preparation for their leaving the conference: “Will Jesus become a stranger or a game changer?”
“This is a very important question, because, as we share with our young people, this conference cannot be the only decision they make for Christ each year. Cotter said ‘...the part time Jesus thing doesn’t work for the long haul. You have to work hard to make this relationship work. Whether you are on a peak or in the valley, Jesus wants to reveal himself to you.’”
Roberts added that striving for sainthood is a daily decision, and that the youth need to use this conference not as a spiritual “fix” but as a renewal and rejuvenation in the faith to propel them forward on their faith journey.
“Our young people at Saint Philip Parish have many opportunities immediately, and year round, to continue on their path to sainthood.”
Claire Choquette has been volunteering as a chaperone at Steubenville East retreats for her parish for about 14 years. Year after year, she has personally seen the incredible transformation in young people. She shared that for many, the adoration aspect is the most moving part of the weekend.
“You can see the change in the kids. When Jesus comes around to each section, that’s when they really feel loved the most — Jesus is up close and personal for them,” she said. “Our group is amazing and it’s just a beautiful time to watch them grow in their faith. They get to see and talk to so many other Catholics there, and learn to love Jesus in a whole new way. For some kids it really just hits home.”
In her third year at Steubenville East, Emma Picard, 17, said that her favorite aspect of the weekend will always and forever be Saturday night adoration. The student at Mount St. Charles Academy said that Saturday night is a time to focus on your own relationship with God, setting aside all pressures from the world at home.
“It is such a moving experience as the priest processes up and down each and every staircase of the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. And luckily for me, this year, he stopped with the monstrance right in front of me and I was able to lay both of my hands on his vestments. Each year, Steubenville East has strengthened my faith, and it has made me proud to be Catholic. I think that many people find it difficult to return to everyday life after such an emotional and moving weekend. However, we are called to return to our lives with joy and with love in our hearts. Now, after my third year at Steubenville, I am hoping to return home with the confidence to be able to raise the difficult questions that we often times avoid. Do you want to pray with me? Is Jesus a part of your life? These are questions that are tough, but they’re necessary. I’m hoping to spread my faith with whoever I can.”
For Elijah Kennedy, 16, a student at La Salle Academy, the moment that stands out in his mind most is the talk before Saturday night adoration. He explained that the speaker went into great detail, describing the pain and suffering that Jesus endured.
“He gave such a distinct image of the suffering that Jesus endured so that we could be saved. As he was speaking, the band began to play softly in the background. The sound of the guitars transformed the arena in an instant. It gave me a sense of longing as the energy was built. I couldn’t wait to see my God who suffered so much for me. As the speaker finished, Jesus, in the monstrance entered the arena. As He was processed onto the stage to the altar. It gave me a brand new perspective of the crucifix and the Eucharist because there is new meaning behind what Jesus did for us in my mind.”
One way that I am going to bring back what I experienced into my daily life is to have more trust in God.
“I will do this by praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that I can understand better God’s plans for me in my life,” he said. “I will also be praying for the strength to trust in God. I know I cannot do it alone and I want to strengthen friendships with my friends of faith.”