Spirited turnout at inaugural NorCal youth event in Hayward
About 1,000 teenagers — the official count was 995 — and their chaperones rocked the bleachers of Cal State East Bay's gym at a Saturday morning hour when most would expect to find 13- to 18-year-olds still sleeping.
Welcome to the Steubenville NorCal Catholic Youth Conference, the first time the event, a collaboration of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and Life Teen, which describes itself as a movement within the Roman Catholic Church, to lead teenagers and their families into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, has been held in the East Bay.
Emphasis is on movement. There appeared to be no sitting on the sidelines at the July 28-30 event, which drew teens and their chaperones from as far away as Honolulu. The Diocese of Oakland was well represented, with youth groups from at least 16 parishes taking part in Masses, Eucharistic Adoration and Procession, musical performances, speakers and ample opportunities for Confession.
"Adoration makes everything better," said Giovanni Alvarez, a recent high school graduate and a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Brentwood, who said he had never been to a conference this size.
"This is 1,000 in a room," he said, but it still felt personal.
Michaela Price, 18, of the same parish said it was a joy to be with like-minded people. "We all want the same thing."
Sheila Murray, a first-time chaperone, said it was "beautiful to see the joy" of the young people seeking to "find truth in their lives."
It was an event seven years in the making for Patti Collyer, who is the coordinator of faith formation for children and youth in the Diocese of Oakland. It has long been her goal to bring an event of this magnitude to the diocese.
"It was truly amazing," she said. The Lord, she said, "truly touched the hearts of those who were there."
Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, celebrated the Saturday morning Mass. With him was Bishop Larry Silva, Honolulu, who served as a priest of the Diocese of Oakland until being named bishop. Diocesan priests and seminarians served at the Mass.
The teens were active participants in the Mass, with the words of songs and responses to prayers projected on big screens above the altar. At the Eucharistic Prayer, many found a way to kneel in the narrow bleachers.
"I'm very uplifted by seeing so many young people turn out, all encouraged by their parish leaders, so many priests here, pastors supporting their youth," Bishop Barber said after Mass.
"It just shows what a thirst there is in our youth for the authentic Christ, through the sacraments of the church — prayer, Confession, Holy Communion. That's what the kids are taking away from here. That they're not the only believer on the block. They're supported by each other," he said.
"I hope we have it again," he said. "I hope it grows. And it's good to have neighboring dioceses here."
A return is likely, said John Beaulieu of Franciscan University, which is responsible for the programming at the event. The initial conference drawing 1,000 is a hopeful sign. Some of the other events such as this nationwide draw in the thousands; that could happen in Northern California, he said.
On Sunday, at the conclusion of the events, all the teens who might be discerning a vocation to religious life or the priesthood went to the stage for prayer. Rev. Wayne Campbell, the Diocese of Oakland's vocation director, said he had heard from several young men who attended the event. They will be invited to join a monthly group for young men, high school graduates and older, who are discerning a call to the priesthood.
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