Archbishop John Nienstedt is taking a bold step in September. In an attempt to capture the flavor of World Youth Day, he is going to spend seven hours with local teens at Archdiocesan Youth Day Sept. 15 at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis.
Event organizers expect a capacity crowd of about 900 teens, based on registrations that already have been received by the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life. In fact, event organizers have considered shifting locations to a part of the school that can accommodate more people.
One thing is clear — teens planning to go are excited about the event and, hopefully, the chance to visit with their archbishop.
“It would be fun to meet him,” said Andy Renier, a member of Holy Name of Jesus in Medina who will be a junior at Benilde-St. Margaret’s School in St. Louis Park this fall. “I would definitely love that.”
What Renier is most looking forward to is eucharistic adoration, which is one of the activities planned for the 2 to 9 p.m. event. The free youth day also will include Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nienstedt, praise and worship music by the band Sonar, breakout sessions and speakers, including Father Michael Schmitz, director of youth/young adult ministry in the Diocese of Duluth.
Encounter with Christ
According to Father Schmitz, the goal of the event, which has the theme “Reason for Hope” (a reference to 1 Peter 3:15) is to help teens connect with Christ.
“When someone actually meets and encounters Christ in a true way, it changes everything,” he said. “Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, ‘God is Love,’ says being a Christian is not from an ethical choice or a lofty idea. Being a Christian is the result from an encounter, an event that gives one’s life a new horizon in a decisive direction.”
At least one teen coming to the event is looking forward to hearing Father Schmitz, who has spoken numerous times in this archdiocese, including at the annual Steubenville North conferences at the University of St. Thomas.
“I have heard him speak before and he’s absolutely amazing,” said Mari Moroz of Holy Name of Jesus. “He has just been so open and honest about everything that he says. I realize how he connects to the teens. Some of the things he says are so true and honest that it really pulls me in and gets me excited about things that he has to say.”
Archbishop Nienstedt is hoping that the event will capture the flavor of World Youth Day, which he has attended five times. He is looking forward to the opportunity to visit with teens and “just be a presence there.” And, he is not surprised by the large number of registrations.
“The enthusiasm of the young people, their devotion, their thirst for God and for the things of God is very palpable,”?the archbishop said. “We’ve seen the tremendous, tremendous response that World Youth Day has engendered in the hearts of young people throughout the world. The last one in Madrid drew a couple of million people. There’s a hunger there. There’s a real desire for Catholics to come together to experience their faith.”
But event organizers want more for the teens than just a one-time spiritual high. They are hoping those who come will bring that encounter with Christ back to their homes and parishes. And, one member of the planning team believes that will happen, based on what she has seen at other events.
“What [Pope] John Paul II called the springtime of the church, I just really feel like that’s where we are with our young people today,” said Amy Cummings, executive director of Partnership for Youth, which is helping organize the event and has put on the Steubenville North conferences.
“We’re really seeing them starting to live out their faith in their communities, in their families, in their schools, and that’s what we want. . . . We want them to have an experience, then take that and live it in their lives, and evangelize. They do that so beautifully.”
Leah Preslicka of St. Michael in Prior Lake is an example of how an event can have an impact that lasts. She went to the National Catholic Youth Conference last November in Indianapolis, and it’s part of the reason she wants to come to this local youth day.
“It’s so cool to have so many people there worshiping Jesus at the same time,” she said. “I actually see an increase in the youth getting into faith because of what a great program we have at St. Mike’s and the great people we’re surrounded by. A lot of our youth have grown more in faith than you would think, and I’m excited for the year to come.”
Volunteers are needed. Please contact Partnership for Youth at (952) 224-0333. Find out more about Archdiocesan Youth Day Day. Catholic Spirit editor Joe Towalski contributed to this story.