Steubenville Life Teen conferences bring out the superlatives in youth ministers' conversations.
"Life Teen's mission is to 'Lead Teens Closer to Christ,'" said Randy Raus, executive director of the program.
"We are excited to host this vibrant youth conference in the Bay Area. We are excited by our collaboration with the Diocese of Oakland and particularly by Bishop (Michael C.) Barber's invitation to us to bring the conference to the Diocese of Oakland. It has been our prayer that we will reach many of the teens in the immediate area."
Bishop Barber will celebrate the first Mass of the event, at 9:15 a.m. July 29.
Central to the Steubenville conferences, Collyer said, is Jesus. Eucharistic adoration both Friday and Saturday night provide the up close time with the Blessed Sacrament.
Collyer is inviting priests of the diocese to attend, and to hear confessions throughout the weekend, another key element of the event.
She recalled chaperoning a group to a conference in San Diego. Two of the teenage participants were moved to go to confession. One said that she had never been to confession; the other hadn't been since her first confession.
As they waited in a long line — perhaps 60 people ahead of them, Collyer reminded them of the elements in making a good confession
When each teen emerged, they found each other, and hugged each other, crying.
"I feel new," one of them said.
The youth ministers who have attended the conference have seen similar results.
Shannon Rogers, who leads youth ministry at St. Raymond Parish in Dublin, worked on conferences on the campus of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, during her college years,
"It was awesome to see your college campus transformed by high school students," she said.
In her first ministry on the East Coast, after her college graduation, she took groups to two different conferences. Since coming to Dublin, she has taken groups to San Diego.
"I was so excited to have the event closer to home," she said. "We used to spend thousands on buses to get to San Diego."
Her goal is to bring 40 high school students to the Hayward event. The St. Raymond group will stay in on-campus housing. "They should stay in the experience," she said.
The teens, she said, are "super-excited."
"I have seen life-changing experiences our kids have had," she said.
Once, as one of the teens she was chaperoning was crying after Adoration, Rogers moved to comfort her.
The conversation, she said, went like this:
"Shannon, I heard Him."
"What did He say?"
"He told me He loved me."
"This is why I do youth ministry," Rogers said. "It's a blessing for you to see the kids encounter Christ."
The conference can have a lasting effect on the teens. "They're the kids that want to stay involved after they're confirmed," Rogers said. Many will take on leadership roles.
"I have seen huge changes in a lot of the kids," she said.
Priscilla Stutzman, youth minister at St. Michael Parish in Livermore, has seen some of those changes, too.
"I have two teens that will start this fall at Franciscan University," said Stutzman, who, like Rogers, is a Franciscan graduate. "One plans to study theology and catechetics.
"Two young gentlemen are discerning the priesthood," she said.
Stutzman is hoping to bring 20 teens to the conference. She has brought them to San Diego in the past.
The youth minister and confirmation coordinator at the parish, which expects 86 young people to be confirmed this month, described the conference as "incredible."
"It really has been life-changing for our teens," she said. Some go because friends invite them.
"They go with some reservations," she said, but they come back "on fire, striving to grow closer to the Lord in many ways."
They help their peers develop this relationship, encourage participation in a holy hour after school, talk about faith at school and support each other, she said.
The parent chaperones are not immune to returning to their home parish "on fire," said Andrew Brown, local coordinator of the conference. This can be seen in support for vibrant youth ministry in their parishes.
Raus said he hopes that participants will take away three things: "That the Church is relevant to them today — it's not just their parents' faith but it is theirs as well. That there is hope — no matter how far they feel they are from God, He loves them and wants them to have a life that is full! That there are other teens out there who are striving to live Holy lives. It's OK to be serious about your faith today!"
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