Steubenville youth conference leaves ’em on fire for the faith

| July 27, 2015 | 0 Comments
Nearly 2,000 young people fill Schoenecker Arena on the St. Paul, Minnesota, campus of the University of St. Thomas for the closing Mass of the Steubenville North youth conference, held July 24-26. Bishop Andrew Cozzens was the principal celebrant.

Nearly 2,000 young people fill Schoenecker Arena on the St. Paul, Minnesota, campus of the University of St. Thomas for the closing Mass of the Steubenville North youth conference, held July 24-26. Bishop Andrew Cozzens was the principal celebrant.

This time was different for 17-year-old Teagan Brogdon from Minneapolis.

A student at Patrick Henry High School, he’d been to Steubenville youth conferences twice before; he said he’d already come to the realization of the importance of his relationship with God.

“This time there was a different feel,” he explained. “I feel like I got a lot closer to God. I’m done learning what I need to know. Now it’s time to take steps to come to God myself.”

Brogdon, a member St. Bridget parish in north Minneapolis, suggested “it might be the cameraderie” that makes the Steubenville conferences effective in leading young people to a richer faith life and practice of the faith.

He was one of 1,950 young people who took part in the three days of talks, liturgies, workshops and opportunities for prayer, adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation at the Steubenville North conference July 24-26 on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

More than 45,000 youth will attend similar Steubenville conferences across the country this summer.

“There are so many young people excited like us about our faith,” Brogdon added. “We are definitely not alone.”

Safety in numbers

Stefanie Steinhofer

Stefanie Steinhofer

In Stefanie Steinhofer’s mind, the great number of young people at the Steubenville conferences is a big reason they have a positive impact on teens’ faith.

A member of the three-parish cluster in the Belgrade, Minnesota, area who volunteered to help lead the weekend, Steinhofer is the parent of a teen who attended this summer and parent of a teen who had attended a Steubenville conference in the past.

With messages from the dominant culture often so much in conflict with Catholic values, Steinhofer said, one of the benefits of attending a youth conference with hundreds of other Catholic young people is “seeing kids from all across the Midwest who have the same same beliefs — that it’s okay to let the Holy Spirit work in you.”

Ona Pender felt much the same way. The 21-year-old college student, also from St. Bridget in Minneapolis, admitted she really didn’t want to come to the conference at first.

“I’ve had struggles with my faith life the past two years,” she said, “but everyone here is so happy to be in God’s presence, it made me think what I can do to strengthen my faith in God.”

What she decided was “to pray more, and trust him. I think that will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge I’m ready for.”

Adults who work with young people are convinced that the Steubenville summer conferences have a positive impact, energizing teens in their faith with the result that they willingly participate in additional faith formation, parish life and service to others.

The conference’s approach aims to “awaken and strengthen young people in their relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church,” according to the mission of the organizing group, Bloomington, Minnesota, based Partnership for Youth. The conferences are an outreach of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.

Curt Lauret

Curt Lauret

Curt Lauret, a volunteer youth leader from St. Katherine Drexel in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has been to Steubenville conferences in the past. “It’s about friendship as they learn about Christ,” Lauret said, “and it’s sparked their interest in other ministries.”

Ann Braegelman, director of religious education for the cluster of St. Francis de Sales in Belgrade, Ss. Peter and Paul in Elrosa and St. Donatus in Brooten, said she’s seen plenty of evidence that the Steubenville approach works from attending 16 conferences.

JoAnn Braegelman

JoAnn Braegelman

“I see the transformation in the kids when they get back,” Braegelman told The Catholic Spirit. “They’re more interested in learning about their faith, and they’re excited about volunteering for things in the parish. It refuels the kids, gives them energy to go forward in their faith.”

Not ice but fire

That energy comes from driving guitars, pounding drums, praise music from keyboards, cheering, applause, insightful videos, witness testimonies by teens, challenges to live with a purpose and positive reinforcement of virtues throughout the weekend.

In a laughter-filled talk, speaker Oscar Rivera cautioned a packed Schoenecker Arena audience not to strive to be cool.

He described ice as “boring,” but fire, on the other hand, he could “watch the flames of a campfire dance all night.”

“We need to stop worrying about how to be cool and start thinking about how to be on fire for the faith,” Rivera said.

Virtues of faithfulness, patience and happiness were among those put in the spotlight. Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Sister Miriam Heidland held up self-control.

“If we can’t say no, our yes doesn’t mean much,” Sister Miriam cautioned. “Say yes to excellence, to what will enoble you; say no to what will destroy you.”

Nate Reinhardt, lead guitar and vocalist for the band Sonar, talked about chastity.

“It’s not denying desires,” Reinhardt said, “but giving in to the deepest desires of our heart, and the deepest desires of our heart always lead us to holiness.”

Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, presided at the conference closing Mass.

In his homily, he connected the day’s gospel of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes to Jesus’ feeding Catholics today through the miracle of the Eucharist.

“Do you believe that Jesus is really here in the Eucharist and wants to satisfy your deepest desires?” he asked.

He said he had always found it easy to believe in the real presence of Christ before he was ordained, “when someone else, a priest, said the words of consecration.”

The only time he ever doubted it was just before he was ordained.

“I wondered,” Bishop Cozzens said, “will I believe when I say the words.”

He described his first Mass, celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

“The first time I held up that host, there was no doubt in my mind I was genuflecting before Jesus Christ, the living son of God.

“My prayer for you,” he told the Steubenville North attendees, “is that you will open your heart to Jesus so he can satisfy your deepest desires.”

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