"Big Four" Highlights


Sustaining Faith

Steubenville conference inspires teens

By Angela Cave Catholic News Service

The first Steubenville Youth Conference to be held in New York drew 1,800 teenagers from around the country Aug. 7-9 to St. John’s University in Queens. They came seeking to bolster their faith and left feeling inspired by the turnout and enlightened about topics such as spiritual friendships, self-esteem, recognizing sin, chivalry and surrendering to God.

“This experience is nothing like I’ve ever had before,” said Olivia Helbach, an incoming high school sophomore who spent three days traveling by bus with a group of 97 other teens from central Wisconsin.

They wore T-shirts reading in Star Wars style, “Jesus Is My Life Saver,” featuring a cartoon Jesus wielding a cross like a light saber.

“It was amazing,” she told Catholic News Service. “There are over 1,000 people here, and everyone knows the same prayers and sings the same songs. There’s a unity.”

Olivia continued, “Before, I was afraid to share my ideas with my friends and even my family. I feel confident expressing it now.”

Olivia appreciated a talk with speaker, vocalist and beatboxer Paul J. Kim, who told the audience to beware of sin creeping into their lives.

“It’s gradual,” she said, recalling her own life’s temptations, like drugs, promiscuity and skipping homework to see friends. “It’s like leading you into more and more. You just have to remember your faith and what you believe. You have to take a step back and know if you do make a mistake, God will still love you.”

Lauren Warnick, a 10th-grader from St. Mary’s Parish in Washingtonville, New York, resonated with the same talk.

“Relationships that are grounded in Jesus will last, and the devil is real and will stare you right in the face,” she learned. She also enjoyed singing and dancing under flashing lights to high-energy worship music. “It’s amazing,” she said with enthusiasm. “It’s what I expected and plus some. I’m going to go home and tell everyone all about it. I’m really happy to be here.”

Among the priests and prelates offering daily Mass was Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who charmed the youth with his trademark sense of humor early on in his homily on Aug. 8, the feast of St. Dominic.

“I’m a little uncomfortable today having Mass in a gym,” he said, gesturing toward his stomach, “because I don’t go to gyms very often. That’s all right, because nowhere are we more at home than to gather around the table of Jesus Christ.”

The cardinal spoke of St. Dominic’s work with the Albigensians, a 12th-century sect. “They had such a lofty concept of God, and they just went off the wrong track,” he said. “(They thought), ‘How could God leave heaven and enter this stupid, sinful, corrupt, dirty world?’ They said, ‘This Incarnation is a big, fat lie, and we don’t believe it. God could not have been conceived in the womb of a woman. God could not have sweated and cried and been nailed to a cross.’”

Eventually, St. Dominic convinced the Albigensians the Incarnation was real. St. Dominic also created the rosary, Cardinal Dolan said, to let Mary complete his task for him.

“If we could restore Mary to the minds and imaginations of people, then we’ll have no trouble restoring the truth of the Incarnation,” he said. “Mary prevents God from being a myth or just a nice idea or a concept.”

A group of boys from St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish in Hamilton, N.J., were among those having a fun and spiritual experience.

“I’m having a blast!” said Steven Dressler, a junior who has been to other Steubenville conferences and always feels incentivized to work on his faith. “I don’t pray much, and I don’t read the Bible much. I do a lot of stupid things and I get in trouble a lot. Just coming here, I’m like, ‘Wow, I should try to fix it.’”

The boys said the conference gives them the opportunity to bond and form a “bromance” – and to hear what it means to be a man and respect women.

Manny Ramirez, an incoming college freshman, said speaker Mark Hart, executive vice president of Life Teen International, “really knows how to connect” with youth. Ramirez’s takeaway from his talks was, “You have to give God a chance to open yourself up to him. Once you give him that one chance, he’s not going to let you go.”

Life Teen hosts the Steubenville conferences, which have been an outreach of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, for 40 years. The New York gathering was one of four regional conferences held this year.

Eucharistic adoration also made an impression on many teens. “It’s an experience you don’t really get to feel anywhere else,” said Caroline Pitten, a junior from St. John Newman Parish in Merrimack, N.H. “I feel peaceful. It’s one of the mysterious things of adoration. Anything can happen, and I realize how important my family is.”

Copyright Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops