Wearing the same blue and white miter and matching vestments from his trip to World Youth Day in Panama in January, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio expressed his gratitude and prayers for the thousands of young men and women attending the fifth annual Steubenville Youth Conference, which was hosted by Life Teen youth ministry and the Dioceses of Brooklyn, Rockville Centre and the Archdiocese of New York.
“It’s a great weekend that deepens their faith; when youth come together and see people of their own age who have faith, it encourages them,” said Bishop DiMarzio, talking about the same spirit he witnessed with young pilgrims during World Youth Day. “That’s what the church is about — we encourage one another; we just don’t go to God alone, but we go as a community of faith.”
More than 1,500 high school youth, including a group of more than 250 teens from the Brooklyn Diocese, attended the conference, which took place July 19-21 at St. John’s University, Jamaica.
The three-day on-campus event for high schoolers across the country included talks, praise and worship, workshop sessions, daily Mass and Holy Adoration.
This year’s theme was “Belong,” based on the verse in John 1: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called children of God (1 John 3:1).”
“You will find belonging in the heart of God and in the Catholic Church through Him,” keynote speaker Emily Wilson told conference-goers. “When and wherever you will walk into a church, you are home. You are not the future of the church — you are the church.”
Paul Morisi, director of Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said that Steubenville is a time for the youth to experience “deep worship, healing and encounter,” especially during Holy Adoration.
“Steubenville conference is important because it is a charismatic opportunity for our young people to gather and worship in a way they may not have and other events or at their home parishes. The level of production and intentionality on programming is second to none.”
Father Rick Martignetti, O.F.M., who teaches at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, invited the teens to see the Holy Mass in a richer way. “At every Mass, there is a breaking of the bread, and when we get closer and share with one another, we get closer to Jesus Christ. To sit at His table is an invitation to belong to Him.”
After celebrating the closing Mass in the jam-packed Carnesecca Arena on July 21, Bishop DiMarzio encouraged young people to be proactive, particularly when it comes to following their vocations.
“Youth wants to be happy — that’s what life is about. So you need to know where God wants you to go, where He wants you to be happy,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “It is a work of prayer. You never know what God wants us to do unless we ask Him, and we ask Him to help us make sure that this is the way that is good for us.”
In the emotional high point of the conference, he invited young people discerning religious life to come forward to the altar to be prayed over in front of their peers.
“These are not easy times to be called into the religious life,” said Father Martignetti, while praying over the large group of young men and women who came to the stage. “If you look at the history of the church, it is the most difficult times that make saints.”
Father Uririoghene Melchizedek, who was the chaperone of a large youth group from Ss. Joachim and Anne parish in Queens Village, spoke glowingly of what he witnessed during the conference.
“It’s so inspiring, as a priest, in a time like this, to be able to see a lot of young people standing up [for their] faith, it’s beautiful,” Father Melchizedek said. “In challenging times, saints are produced, and you can see them all over the place.”
“Growing up, I always went to church for my family, but now after this retreat, I feel like I’m going also for myself. I’m so thankful and really excited for next year,” said Rachel Lande, a member of Ss. Joachim and Anne’s youth group.
Youth from St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Flatlands also shared their joy.
“I’ve met a lot of cool people from different parishes that are all my age,” said Saralynn Cherry, 13, a Steubenville first-timer. “I was really moved by the Holy Spirit; it’s like He was there with me. And I didn’t know that there were so many young Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens. It makes me feel good like I am ready to grow in my faith more.”
Marc Dossoukitti, 13, said he “experienced true happiness” in Holy Adoration.
“I was praying and there were people crying all around me, and I felt happy because the Lord was healing people around us, and I knew my prayers were answered. Young people are praising God, and they know how the future is and what they want to be, and it’s just great. I’m going to tell my friends that God is always with them, and to come back next year!”