‘Elegate’ challenges young people to take faith to higher level

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | August 16, 2012 | 0 Comments

More than 500 attend music and worship event at University of Minnesota

Exuberant fans of popular Catholic recording artist Matt Maher listen to his uplifting music while he performs at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union during St. Paul’s Outreach’s second annual Elegate event. Jim Bovin / For The Catholic Spirit

Invited to the Aug. 9 Elegate event at the University of Minnesota’s Coffman Memorial Union by two friends, Will Schmulske of Stillwater knew nothing about Catholic singer Matt Maher, the evening’s main attraction.

At the start of the show, Schmulske’s friends, Megan and Bethany Hastings of Inver Grove Heights, who were familiar with the singer’s music and knew the event was also about experiencing God’s love, hoped the show would make an impression on him.

The evening wasn’t just about a concert. St. Paul’s Outreach organized the second annual Elegate event to be not only about music but also an evangelistic opportunity for worship and testimony centered around the Gospel. “Elegate” means to pass a task up to God, as opposed to delegating it to planners.

SPO is a West St. Paul-based Catholic ministry seeking to evangelize college students, bring them to maturity and train them to be leaders.

Singing from the core

Maher launched into some of his hits, and many of the 550 mostly college students knew the words.

Between songs, Maher told personal stories and encouraged listeners to enter into worship. “There are 60,000 students on this campus,” he said. “There’s got to be a couple looking for Christ.”

As song lyrics flashed on a screen, he exhorted, “Worship is singing from your core, the essence of who you are — from your highs and lows.”

The young people responded by praising God and raising their hands, a few wrapped in rosaries.

“Ask God to open your eyes because there’s a lot more happening than you see,” he said. “Ask him to show you.”

Displaying a photo of himself as a kid holding a baseball bat that he said he never once swung during an entire season at bat, SPO Minnesota branch director and Elegate organizer Ryan O’Hara encouraged the audience to not be afraid to act — in this case, to enter deeper into worship and make an active response to God’s call.

With honesty and humor, Father Craig Vasek went deep into the story of his own life before his conversion, encouraging listeners to entrust their lives to God and to receive the sacraments, especially reconciliation.

“It’s a daily giving over of self, back to the one who made me and knows how to sustain me,” said Father Vasek, parochial vicar at St. Philip in Bemidji, who frequently works with youth and young adults.

Exclaiming that “freedom starts with a declaration of dependence,” Maher continued to call the young people further into worship and prayer, resulting in hundreds of pumping fists and shouts of praise.

Two hundred of the most enthusiastic Elegate participants were finishing up at SPO’s School of the New Evangelization, an eight-day program held this month at the University of St. Thomas that offered students, mission leaders and priests from around the country prayer and training designed to help them live and share their Catholic faith on their campuses.

Making an impact

After the show, SNE participant George Pappas said he thought those at the event were “challenged to another level. I felt challenged to devote daily time to personal prayer,” he said.

Preparing to be a mission leader at Texas State University this fall, the Houston native said, “It’s a challenge to be real when you’re talking about the Lord. You need to be honest with yourself.”

Schmulske said the event was a different experience because he doesn’t usually listen to music like Maher’s.

For Bethany Hastings, Elegate was different than Catholic young adult events she’d attended at St. Mary’s University in Winona. “It’s cool to have something to come to,” she said.

Madeline Nolan and Laura Hertzog, both high school seniors from Watertown, heard about the event on Facebook.

“I loved the praise and worship,” said Nolan, who with Hertzog belongs to the CHILL (Catholic Heroes into Loving the Lord) youth group at Immaculate Conception in Watertown.

During the music, “we were singing our own thing — on the inside,” Hertzog said.

Andrea Prisby, SPO administrator and an Elegate organizer was “in awe and humbled” at the event turnout and the spirit in the room, she said, adding that she’s not sure yet whether the event will return next year.

“You can’t help but just fall on your knees and thank the Lord because God did this,” she said. “He brought these people together and it just blew my mind how he took over.”

Chika Anyanwu also was deeply affected by the event, especially Father Vasek’s talk. “He was so honest [even] about his sinfulness,” said Anyanwu, a native of Ontario, Calif., who is preparing to serve a second year with NET Ministries. “His sharing about confession made me want to go to confession.” (After the event she asked Father Vasek to hear her confession.)

Maher and his band made an impression on her as well. “He was rousing all the people in different walks of life, raising their fists, shouting,” she said. “It’s good. I love being Catholic, and I love the sacrament of reconciliation. This was exactly what I needed.”

Visit Matt Maher’s website. Learn more about St. Paul’s Outreach.

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