Steubenville 2019: ‘Belong’
Thu, 08/08/2019 - 4:16pm mmay1
By GRANT RAMM
More than 800 high school students and chaperones from 17 archdiocesan parishes crammed into 18 buses at sunrise in Omaha July 19 and headed 350 miles southeast to Springfield, Missouri, for Steubenville Youth Conference Mid-America 2.
By sunset, all had funneled into JQH Arena at Missouri State University, joining with other youth to form a patchwork of colorful T-shirts representing at least a dozen dioceses from around the Midwest.
This was the opening night scene as 5,000 eager young people anticipated a three-day weekend featuring six speakers, spirited worship music, opportunities for Mass and reconciliation, and plenty of time to spend together in small group discussion.
Keynote speaker Sister Miriam Heidland opened the conference Friday night, speaking on the conference’s theme, “Belong,” based on 1 John 3:1: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called children of God.”
Sister Miriam proclaimed to participants that they were all children of God, that they belonged at the conference and that they belonged to him.
Incoming Mercy High School senior Rachel Grigsby, attending the conference for her second straight year, wasted no time applying the message to her life.
“Making friends and feeling like I belong has come really easy to me. But for some reason, feeling like I belong to God has been harder for me,” she said.
“But this weekend has definitely made me feel more like a child of Christ than my whole life just in these three days. I've been so overwhelmed with a presence of God and how everyone is living out their faith. I want to strive to be like that.”
The 2019 Mid America 2 gathering was one of 25 Steubenville youth conferences spanning 20 sites across North America. Sponsored by the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, the conferences have helped students encounter Christ and grow as his disciples since 1976.
Witness talks that ranged from “Dating 101” to “Men’s Session: Authentic Friendship” called participants to grow in their faith journeys.
Katie Corpuz, an incoming Marian High School junior, at her second straight conference, shared her experience of reconciliation. Her priest described her absolution as starting a new journey.
She recalled him saying, “You being here at Steubenville, it clears the slate. Going to confession clears the slate. You are free to strengthen your relationship with God and let the Holy Spirit … initiate the change in your life.”
One of the high points of the conference was a three-hour eucharistic adoration on Saturday night. Incoming University of Nebraska at Omaha freshman Michael Ryan, a graduate of V.J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School and future resident of St. John Paul II Newman Center, voiced his love for it.
“I got to encounter his (Jesus’) love in a monumental way for the first time in my life during the eucharistic adoration last year,” he said. “I love Christ, and the Steubenville conferences give me a chance to look back at the past year and talk with Christ about my struggles and triumphs.”
ADULT LEADER IMPACT
Adam Baker is a youth minister for NET (National Evangelization Teams) Ministries based in West St. Paul, Minnesota, and a Skutt graduate who attended five Steubenville conferences as a student. He talked about leading after his sixth retreat on the bus ride home.
“I love coming as a leader to help pastorally care for these students and to witness a lot of God's movements” within their hearts, and to help them process those things, he said.
Baker identified commonalities between NET Ministries events and the Steubenville conferences. A big one was liturgy. “They do a great job of exposing these students to worship and teaching them and leading them in how to worship,” he said.
A few bus seats away, Adam Stephenson, a youth ministry leader at St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, talked about the impact of adoration on the youth.
“You’re seeing kids that do things that you'd never seen them do before,” Stephenson said. “Whether they’re a first-time kid or a second-time kid or a fifth-time kid, they’re being authentic and having a great time. And I just loved it.”
As the conference came to a close, three bishops celebrated Sunday Mass. Following Communion, homilist Father Chris Martin of the Archdiocese of St. Louis called forth those in the crowd who had not yet been baptized or who felt called to religious life. More than 300 young people came forth to receive a blessing from St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, moving many to cheers and others to tears.
Sister Miriam then called attendees to action with a sports analogy. She explained that professional tennis player Serena Williams once said, “Some mornings I don’t want to wake up and practice, but I never want to wake up and lose.”
Sister Miriam applied this to her prayer life: Some days she wakes up and does not want to pray, but she never wants to lose. So, because she wants to go to heaven, she prays anyway.
The crowd was then dismissed, and 18 buses started rolling home to Omaha filled with high schoolers equipped with new ways to pray and dispose themselves to a deeper encounter with Christ.
Stephenson had one last thought: “We don’t just become holy by going to a couple of Steubenville conferences,” he said. “So I hope that our students realize this was good. It’s an awesome thing. But we really become holy by what we choose to do tomorrow morning.”