‘Jesus is the center of everything they do’ – The Messenger
By LINDA BEHRENS
“It was an awesome weekend.” Uplifting. Powerful. Motivational. Inspiring. An incredible weekend.
These adjectives and many more were shared by two religious formation leaders and several teenagers from the Diocese of Belleville who attended the Steubenville STL Mid-America conferences.
The Steubenville Youth Conferences are a series of 25 conferences across North America that help teens encounter the love of Christ.
The Steubenville STL Mid-America Conferences (also known as SteubySTL) are two of the conferences held each July on the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
Approximately 5,900 teens, volunteers, staff and clergy attended these two sessions, along with 120 youth and adults from the Diocese of Belleville.
Rising freshmen in high school through rising freshmen in college are welcome to attend.
The events are a high-energy youth conference where thousands of teens are invited to encounter Jesus Christ through dynamic speakers, engaging music, the sacraments, small group discussions, and fellowship with other teens.
This year’s theme was “Fearless” (John 16:33).
Springfield Conferences is an initiative of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, in partnership with Steubenville Youth Conferences and the St. Louis Archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
The mission is to build the Church by evangelizing, equipping and empowering God’s children to become radical and joyful disciples.
Faith Formation Perspective
This was the second time that Catherine Burkart, youth faith formation pastoral associate and SRP coordinator at Ss. Peter and Paul in Waterloo, has attended a Steubenville youth conference. The group of 27 youth and two young adult leaders she coordinated also included youth from St. Teresa and St. Augustine in Belleville.
“We were in a huge arena, like a concert, but you hear songs of praise and worship,” Burkart says. “It’s energizing to see so many young people loving their faith.”
She describes seeing the reconciliation line wrapped around the second floor of the student center.
“It was amazing to see the students completely embodying this whole experience, which is an important commitment to living their faith,” she says.
At one point, non-Catholic participants who wanted to become Catholics were invited to come to the front of the arena. “They rushed onto the stage,” she said.
They then asked if anyone wanted to become a priest or if any women were interested in religious life to take the stage. Several hundred students took the stage, she said.
“As a former vocations director, that’s huge, incredible,” Burkart says.
There were many highlights over the weekend, such as seeing the procession of clergy come to mass on both mornings. Or when the priests blessed the participants and sent them away.
“It made an impression,” she adds.
Burkart says she will listen to her Spotify list of music from the conference and share it with her two young daughters, until she gets a new music list next year.
Angela Lees, youth religious education coordinator for St. Joseph in Marion, brought 11 youth from St. Joseph and St. Paul to Johnston City to the conference.
“Jesus is at the center of everything they do at the conference,” she said. “It is Christ-centered to lead young people to Christ.”
Lees was also impressed with the scale of the event and the masses that took place in the arena.
“During Eucharistic adoration, the monstrance was brought to each section and brought closer to the young people,” she says. “It’s not something they see all the time. At that time, it was so quiet. With so many people, you could hear a pin drop.
She adds: “The Holy Spirit was palpable, venerated.
Lees explains that the past few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, have been difficult for this group of high school students.
“They haven’t been together much. They felt something was missing,” she says.
“From a leader’s perspective, seeing them bond together at this conference, creating these memories, is special,” she said. “Hopefully they look back on that time and something from the weekend stays with them forever.”
She also hopes that they will take what they have learned back home and to their parishes.
“This event stirs up enthusiasm for the Lord.”
She says that as a leader, getting a group to a conference like this is a lot of work. It’s a long weekend and long hours.
“But it’s worth every minute, to sit and watch them fill up. It’s worth every breath of every second.
Lees hopes more parishes will bring their youth to future Steubenville conferences.
Perspective of young participants
Five cousins of a family attended the conference with the group of Ss. Peter and Paul – Sarah Toth, Oliva Toth and Elayna Hermanns of Waterloo; Austin Stern of Red Bud; and Bayleigh Russell of Gardner, Kansas. They are the great-grandchildren of Herman and Florence Hess of Red Bud.
This was 16-year-old Sarah Toth’s second lecture. She says the worship was her favorite part, and the music and the speakers were amazing.
“When I’m there, I feel like I’m talking to God one-on-one,” Toth says. “Music helps me concentrate. I pray with music and words, like meditation. I feel closer to God, seeing everyone praying and singing.
Toth says attending the conference is a way to “recharge your batteries.” She says it recharges your faith.
“We all get caught up in everyday stuff,” she says. “It’s a weekend to be free and be with the Lord.”
Jack Wightman, 17, from Waterloo, loved the times when everyone was on their feet, Christian music was playing, people were singing and dancing and beach balls were tossed through the air.
“I was surprised how many people were there,” he says. “I really liked the energy, the attitude and the atmosphere at that time.”
Wightman also liked the male-only talk, where they talked about why maintaining faith as a man is important. “It got me thinking about things.”
He encourages anyone interested in the Steubenville conference to attend next year. “They should also experience it. Is it worth it.”
Adelynn McCarthy, 17, of Marion, says the weekend was eye-opening, rewarding and made her feel more connected to her faith, especially after the past two years during the pandemic.
“It was good to see so many other Catholic people,” McCarthy says. “I loved it. The talks, the masses, everyone communing together in the huge arena.
Worship was his favorite, “to see everyone singing and to feel it. It was very emotional.
McCarthy says it’s hard to put the experience into words.
“Everyone was so into it. Watch everyone live their faith. It’s something you have to live with,” she says.
Gracie Behnke, 18, of Harrisburg, says she was impressed by the number of Catholic teenagers in attendance, as she grew up in a small town with a small Catholic community.
“The atmosphere at the conference is incredible,” says Behnke. “It’s welcoming, inspiring and a sense of community.”
His favorite part was the adoration, when the priests walked around the arena with the monstrance.
“It was a beautiful moment, an unreal experience. It was like Jesus walking around the room with you,” Behnke says.
She also says it’s hard to describe and the pictures don’t do it justice.
Behnke brought home the theme of the event – fearless.
“They focused on the feeling that no matter what situation you find yourself in, you can turn to God,” she explains.
“We were made to belong to a community,” she adds. “Remember that you can always turn to your church, your youth group. You can turn to God.
For more information on the Steubenville STL Mid-America conferences, visit steubystl.com.