One of Yuliana Lule's favorite songs from the Steubenville youth conference is "Lead Me to the Cross."
This summer, she immortalized the main line from that song by inscribing it on a rock painted bright yellow. But it didn't stop there — Yuliana and friends from her youth group have created more rocky works of art with inspiring messages and images to share with their friends at the SteubenvilleSTL Mid-America Youth Conference in Springfield, Mo.
Painted rocks have become a popular trend this summer. Long gone are the days of Pokemon Go. (Right!? We were ready for that one to go.) Instead of chasing virtual creatures from smartphone screens, the painted rock craze gets people off their devices and puts imagination and creativity to work — and some are using it to evangelize.
Yuliana and a group of 40 teens and chaperones from Our Lady of Guadalupe were expected to hide their painted rocks around the campus of Missouri State University during Steubenville. With messages such as "Let Jesus calm your storm," and intricate, hand-painted images of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, the idea is to share the joy of the Gospel with other conferencegoers, explained youth minister Lorena Jimenez.
Each rock was placed in a small plastic bag and included a piece of paper with this message:
Congratulations! You have found a Steubystlrock. This is a rock painted by the teens form the St. John Bosco Youth Group at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, MO. Please take a moment and look us up on Instagram at steubystlrocks. We would really like it if you can post a picture of you and your rock and tell us where you are from and where you found it! Don't forget to tag it! #steubystlrocks #steubystl #catholicstl #steubie17
"Hopefully we can be everywhere," Jimenez said. "It will be cool to see where our rocks take off. The first year we went, we met a teen from Canada. Who knows, maybe they'll leave it somewhere else for somebody else — we'll see where it travels."
Jimenez discovered painted rocks when her family was traveling to Orlando, Fla. They found a painted rock, tagged with the Facebook group Vancouver Rocks (the page has more than 34,000 members); an attached piece of paper encouraged the finder to visit the page and share photos of where the treasure was found. Jimenez liked the idea of sharing on social media, but wanted to bring it to the next level, as a way of sharing the faith with others.
The theme this year at Steubenville is "Elevate" — connecting to that theme is a talk about how teens are overwhelmed with social media, and how they can use it for good, including sharing the faith with others. During the weekend, teens are encouraged to share their experiences at the conference on social media. (Follow @SteubySTL on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates from the conference.)
"You never know, somebody might pick it up and they're having a bad day and it might encourage them in such a way — maybe they're waiting for a sign," Jimenez said. "Maybe they'll take it back to their parish or youth group and wherever they're from and share it with others."
Jimenez also likes the creative aspect of their project.
"Look at them gathered around, painting and socializing," she said. "It pulls them away from their phones for a little bit and lets them be creative in thinking and really think about the message they want to share. Last year we made homemade rosary bracelets to pass out to other youth groups. It allows them to connect with other teens."
Adriana Gonzalez, a five-year Steubenville veteran, inscribed inspirational messages on her creations such as "Let Jesus calm your storm" and "If God is for us who can ever be against us?" Nearby, Yuliana Lule was putting finishing touches on her rocks. "I was nervous the first year I went to Steubenville, but then I went and I was so hooked," she said.
Hide and seek
The painted rock trend is a convergence of the analog and digital. Strategically hiding painted rocks with inspirational messages in public places, and posting finds on social media (primarily via Facebook and Instagram), has brought people to connect online and in person. And it's growing in popularity. Some groups are more established. For instance, the Northeast Ohio Rocks page on Facebook has more than 134,000 members.
In St. Louis, Facebook group STL Rocks has nearly 450 members, and another, called Saint Louis Rocks, has almost 240. Other areas have started Facebook groups, such as JeffCo Rocks, Kirkwood Rocks, Franklin Co Kindness Rocks, and Ballwin Rocks.
Jennifer Martin and her son, 11-year-old Henry, started the Kirkwood Rocks Facebook group last year as a fun summertime activity. The Martins were visiting relatives in Jefferson City, Mo. last summer and painted rocks with their cousins. When they returned, Jennifer Martin posted the idea on her own page, and then they eventually created a separate Facebook group, which now has more than 350 members.
The Martins, parishioners at St. Gerard Majella, were amazed how quickly it caught on with their friends.
One recent morning, the two hid a batch of 15 rocks in a park near their home. They were decorated with inspirational messages such as "Joy," and fun images including a basketball and, yes — even a Poke ball. Henry Martin strategically placed them in every nook and cranny he could find.
"You're doing some sneaky hiding," his mom observed.
Jennifer Martin later went to the Kirkwood Rocks Facebook page to alert followers that a fresh batch was waiting to be found. "If you find them, don't forget to post a pic. Have a great day!!!" she wrote.
Posting on Facebook "gets other people to do it," Martin said. "As they find them, they would go home and their kids would want to paint them, too. It's exciting when people find them, too."
Waiting for the paint to dry is an exercise in patience for Henry, but the reward comes in hiding them for others to find and bringing them joy.
"You do like hiding them, don't you?" his Mom asked.
"Yeah," her son chimed in.
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Catholic STL Rocks! Facebook group
This group is dedicated to those who love the painted rock craze and want use this creative outlet as a way to share the joy of their Catholic faith with others.
• Flat, paintable rocks, such as river rocks (These can be found in in craft stores or landscaping supply or around the home. PLEASE do not steal rocks from private property.)
• Acrylic paint, as well as paint pens for finer details (The more colors the merrier!)
• Paint brushes
• Weather protective sealer, such as spray polyurethane
• Get creative! And be sure to share your faith! Some ideas include painting images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or Our Lady of Guadalupe. Or share a few inspirational words. Be sure to seal your rocks with a weather-resistant coat.
• On the bottom of your rocks, please paint the Facebook logo and CatholicSTL Rocks! to tag our community. If you find a rock, please come here and share your images. Tell us where you found it too!
• If you find a rock from our group, you are welcome to keep it, but be sure to replace it with one that you've painted. Or you can move the rock to another location. Let's see how far we can spread the Good News!
Now for the DON'TS
• Don't place rocks in places that could cause damage to property or in places that are otherwise unsafe. (i.e. Don't place anything close to a roadway, etc.) If you have to question whether it's a safe spot, it probably isn't.
• Don't place rocks on private property, unless you otherwise have permission to do so.
• Don't write or draw anything offensive on your rocks. (Although we don't really need to remind you of that, do we?)