Revealing the Love of Jesus, Energizing Youth in Faith
In the midst of all the noise surrounding teenagers – from the virtual world of cellphones and technology, as noted by Pope Francis, to even the physical, saturated noise within the confines of New York City – the Steubenville NYC youth conference made its way once again to St. John’s University, Jamaica, July 20-22. Carnesecca Arena was filled to near-capacity with thousands of high school students from the tri-state area.
Yet, for some teens from St. Bartholomew Church, Elmhurst, who attended the conference for a second time, it was an opportunity for Jesus to be revealed to them, not necessarily through the loud, jam-packed events, but through moments of complete silence.
“The first time I came here, I wasn’t really that close to God,” said rising senior Heidi Antonio and youth group member. “During Adoration, you have time to think about everything and through my Adoration, I thought about what I have gone through. You have to think what has happened to you and how God has helped you. It will make you grow stronger to Him, grow more loving to Him.”
For the fourth year, the national summer youth conference took place on the college campus and offered three days for high school students to listen to renowned Catholic speakers, enjoy live praise and worship music and engage in activities meant to energize teens to live their faith out loud through the sacraments.
“This summer, over 50,000 Catholic teens across North America will participate in 25 Steubenville Youth Conferences,” according to the organization.
“Conferences like this help to reinforce the trainings and support the diocese gives youth leaders in our parishes,” said diocesan Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation Director Paul Morisi. “Certainly, we have seen growth in local leadership as a result of these opportunities. Many young people return to their parishes on fire to spread the Gospel.”
More than 25 teens from St. Bartholomew’s attended Steubenville NYC. Their group was led by youth ministers Joel and Monique Gomez. Monique explained that most of the teens grew up in the parish youth group, and are now taking on leadership roles.
That was the case with David Mellado, who got involved through Edge, St. Bartholomew’s middle school youth group. Now as a high school senior, he helps lead the middle school youth closer to their faith. One of the breakout sessions on Saturday included separating the young men and young women into two groups in order to share talks specifically geared to their gender.
Life Lessons in Purity and Honoring God
Mellado shared how the conference revealed important life lessons, including how to stay pure as he gets older and honor God in his relationships.
“The first time I came here I actually thought it was going to be some cheesy, corny retreat, but when I actually came here and saw all of the people it was like wow, it’s crazy,” he said.
“Steubenville has gotten me closer to God since my first year I came here, knowing there are people out there who actually share the same thing that I enjoy doing which is worshipping God.”
A total of 150 young people from 10 parishes in Brooklyn and Queens spent their weekend with other groups from throughout the East Coast. Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated the closing Mass on Sunday. He shared his insight on why it’s important for teens to participate in events like Steubenville.
“Well it’s good to get out of your environment sometimes and see other people that are like yourself so you don’t feel isolated,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “You see other people who have the same issues, the same voice, same problems. It’s good to be away from your own circumstances – you reflect better. So, it’s always good to get away.”
Whether it was spending sleepless nights in the residence hall suites, sharing meals in Montgoris Hall or running through campus in the rain, the weekend provided an atmosphere where the teens had the freedom to be truly centered on Christ without judgment – a rare environment for many city teens.
“The main reason I came back was because the atmosphere and the environment,” said Glen Marcatoma, rising senior at St. Bartholomew. “Honestly, there’s really no other place where a bunch of young people are going to come together and display their faith the way they do here. It just makes it easier to get into that mode and worship.”
Lifeteen, an international Catholic youth ministry organization, hosted the weekend and set as its theme, “Revealed: 1 John 4:9.” The dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, and the Archdiocese of New York also undertook planning efforts.
Throughout the weekend, from the speakers to even the bishop’s homily in the closing Mass, the theme was an invitation for the teens to open their hearts and be vulnerable enough in order for God to be revealed to them in a deeper way.
One of the event hosts, Father Leo Patalinghug, cut to the core of the message on the opening night of Adoration when he invited the teens to pray like they’ve never prayed before.
Mind and Body, Body and Blood
“Use your mind as well as your body to open yourselves up to the One who revealed Himself to us when He said it and as we say it every Mass: this is my Body, this is my Blood,” he told the crowds.
“We are here to worship God and He reveals Himself to us now and in this time of prayer, perhaps we are called to reveal ourselves to Him.”
The message struck a chord with Marcatoma.
“During this Adoration, He revealed Himself to me and I actually felt something this time,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t really feel anything but I still believed. But at this Steubenville, I definitely felt something.”
After the final blessing, the teens returned to the residence halls to gather their belongings and head home. Despite whatever noise would await them as they left campus, the arena that was just overtaken by joy-filled teenagers now stood silent.
“It’s something different,” said Marcatoma. “You’re just able to express yourself, express your faith without being mocked or anything like that.”