The Steubenville STL Mid-America conference has been described as an opportunity for teens to grow closer to God and rejuvenate their faith. The first conference was held just a few months after St. John Paul II’s 1999 visit to St. Louis, where he urged Catholics to be present to the young Church.
In the past 20 years, the conference has grown so large that it was relocated to the campus of Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. It has been expanded to two weekends to accommodate youth groups that come from all over the United States, although primarily from the Midwest. This year was its biggest anticipated attendance, with about 9,500 teens, volunteers, staff and clergy over the two weekends in July.
The work of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, in collaboration with Steubenville Youth Conferences and Franciscan University of Steubenville, in organizing this conference is a testament to the Church’s commitment to young people. The energizing speakers, sacraments, prayer, music and fun activities all contribute to a successful weekend that draws teens back year after year.
“I pray they hold on to that encounter with Jesus they have this weekend and know the love, joy, hope and the promise that He has for them,” said Tom Lancia, director of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry. “When they have that, they shine. And they shine through the darkest times, they shine in the greatest times, and they bring people into that. They are the Church, and when I see the Church struggle, I am lifted up when I see them go through those doors. Because I see a Church alive in our youth.”
Beyond Steubenville, we see the efforts of many in youth ministry who work to keep the young Church engaged. Parents, youth ministers, campus ministers, clergy, religious and others are among those who keep the fire alive in these young people throughout the year and should be commended for their efforts.
“We all know the real heroes are the group leaders who work tirelessly and thanklessly all year to build relationships with the kids and their parents to earn enough trust to bring them to Springfield, MO to encounter Christ in a profound way,” archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate executive director Brian Miller tweeted.
In his 1999 address to young people in St. Louis, St. John Paul II said that this is a time for training — physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. But he also called on them to share in the Church’s mission now.
“Even though you are young, the time for action is now! Jesus does not have ‘contempt for your youth,’” the pope said. “He does not set you aside for a later time when you will be older and your training will be complete. Your training will never be finished. Christians are always in training. You are ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you — all of you — to be light to the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine!”
The Steubenville youth conferences are just one example in which we see these young people shine. As they head back to their church communities, let us share in their energy and excitement for the faith, and look to them as a model for inviting others into a relationship with our Lord.