By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published July 22, 2010
The Steubenville Atlanta Youth Conference, a staple event for teens during their summer break from high school, was held July 16-18, filling the Arena at Gwinnett Center with energy, music and teens’ prayerful celebration of their Catholic faith.
Listening to the teens talk about the weekend, the moments they spent in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament seemed to be one of the most popular and powerful experiences of the conference.
“This year, it was so overwhelming,” said Nikki Lasseigne, an 18-year-old who traveled from Florida to attend. This was her second time at a Steubenville conference.
“I wish it lasted the whole year,” she added enthusiastically.
While the focus of the weekend is providing a comfortable environment for young Catholics to express their spirituality, the side effects usually impact all those involved, from the speakers to the volunteers.
Lisa Batarseh, who traveled from Los Angeles to serve on the staff at the weekend event, said the conference was powerful for her as well, as she watched the Holy Spirit affect the more than 2,200 youth attending.
“I saw the Spirit of God moving through the entire community of teenagers, staff members and even priests,” said Batarseh, who is a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in North Ridge, Calif.
“Adoration was very powerful,” she added.
The conference began Friday, July 16, with an evening session and Eucharistic adoration. The ministry team at this year’s conference included Paul George, co-founder and director of ADORE ministries, a missionary organization, who served as weekend host; Father Tim Hepburn, a priest of the Atlanta Archdiocese and chaplain at Georgia Tech who has assisted at Steubenville conferences for many years; and Matt Maher, Catholic musician.
The theme for Steubenville 2010 conferences is “The Word Became Flesh,” chosen to inspire and remind young Catholics of Jesus’ sacrifice and also that he is alive and active in their lives today. Nearly 20 Steubenville conferences for high school youth are being held this summer on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and regionally throughout the country.
On Saturday, July 17, breakout sessions were given by speakers, including Father Dan Beeman of the Diocese of Richmond, Va., and Mark Hart, known as the “Bible Geek,” who is executive vice president for Life Teen International. Topics in the sessions included “Witnessing to Your Friends,” “Developing Personal Prayer,” and “Praying With Mary.” In addition, there were gender-specific sessions held for all the young men and women.
Sabrina Valenti, 15, from Niceville, Fla., said these workshops gave attendees the chance to hear the message they specifically needed and wanted.
“I really liked the breakout sessions,” said Valenti, who attends Christ the Redeemer Church. “You could choose what you want to listen to and hear whatever you need in your life.”
It is not just teens from the Southeast who travel to the yearly event, according to Martha Gaynoe, conference coordinator and a Catholic Relief Services regional program director.
“We’ve had folks come from as far as Minnesota. They brought 120 kids,” she said. “The Diocese of Richmond brought 260 kids. This has just been an awesome year.”
The conference ended with Mass on Sunday, July 18, celebrated by Atlanta Auxiliary Bishop Luis Zarama, who was assisted by more than 20 priests from Atlanta and surrounding dioceses. Father Hepburn provided the homily in which he encouraged the teens to seek Jesus daily and to recognize that the Word has become flesh in their lives. Living this realization will not only witness to those around them but will also bring peace into their hearts, he said.
“You can actually be at peace in a busy life,” he told the crowd.
“To see this many teenagers was amazing,” said Mary Gadalla, of Destin, Fla., who is originally from Egypt. She volunteered at Steubenville Atlanta and was shocked to see how many of the teens were genuinely open to God’s presence in their lives.
“One of the sessions was a talk about chastity and at the end people were cheering,” she said. “This is not what I knew of American society. It was shocking. … It is hard to miss that God is here.”