A bus packed with 26 energetic teenagers from St. Rita CYO in Harahan embarked July 12 on a faith-filled voyage to Atlanta.
Making a pit stop at the city’s Six Flags theme park, they spent time in community with one another. They went seeking thrills, but not simply for the sake of having a good time. They were traveling to better know Christ through community, and their final destination was the Steubenville High School Youth Conference.
St. Rita CYO has been attending Steubenville conferences for the past five years and has consistently taken one of the largest youth groups from the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The teens are led by a core team of young adults and volunteer youth ministers under the direction of Erin Maffe, St. Rita’s youth coordinator. Newly ordained Father Kyle Sanders, St. Rita’s parochial vicar, also attended the trip with the teens.
A clarion call
The Steubenville High School Youth Conferences provide a weekend where teenagers can hear a clear proclamation of the Gospel message through dynamic speaking, inspirational worship and reverent sacramental celebrations aimed at helping them grow in their faith journey.
Ryan Schwing, a recent Archbishop Rummel High School graduate, said the Steubenville conferences have greatly impacted his spiritual life for the last three years.
“Christ is very much present at these conferences, and he touches those who are open to his will in extraordinary ways,” Schwing said.
Sponsored by LifeTeen ministries, the 2012 Atlanta conference featured talks from notable Catholic speakers such as Mary Bielski, Mark Hart and Chris Padgett. Paul George, a Louisiana native and founder of Adore Ministries, hosted the weekend conference. Musician Ike Nodolo and a house band led the teens in worship.
This year’s conference theme was “The Eighth Day,” a phrase used to refer to God’s ongoing work of redemption through Jesus Christ. The weekend’s sessions allowed the teens to journey into the reality of this redemption and discover what it means in their lives today. Separate men’s and women’s sessions were included in the schedule, and there was also time set aside for some fun, Catholic entertainment.
Adoration and reverence
The highlight of the conference was the Saturday evening adoration service, where Father Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, processed with the Blessed Sacrament around an arena filled with more than 2,000 teenagers.
Father Sanders said, “By the end of the weekend, theme park thrills paled in comparison to the deep encounter with life Himself who passed in our midst – no different than when He walked through the streets of a town in Galilee with the sick and wounded crying out for His healing.”
Joelle Lorenzo, a junior at St. Mary’s Dominican High School, said she had a powerful encounter with God during this engaging time of prayer.
“I felt as if God had planted a seed in my heart that he wants to grow and bloom into the beautiful mission of dedicating my life to serving him,” Lorenzo said. “I didn’t realize how awesome that mission was at first, but God gave me affirmations to see that this was my calling. On the bus ride home the next day, I realized what God had done for me, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I discovered what God wants me to do, and I cannot wait to begin this adventure with him.”
More to come
The adventure these teens embarked upon certainly did not end at the conference in Atlanta. During the bus ride home, they continued to sing, pray and share with one another. The last hour of the trip was dedicated to giving testimonies about the ways that God touched their lives at the weekend conference.
Maffe described the Steubenville conference as a source of renewed faith for the youth group.
“The teens return from Steubenville with such an excitement for the Catholic faith,” she said. “I am continually impressed by their openness. They each went with hearts wide open and were ready to receive whatever the Holy Spirit wanted to give them.”
Schwing and Lorenzo agree that this is a trip their youth group will never forget. “I felt God’s love all around me,” Lorenzo said. “It was the coolest thing.”
Rachel Varisco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.