By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 24, 2023
DULUTH—Hundreds of young believers filled Gas South Convention Center for a weekend of spiritual renewal and high-energy worship.
Bringing a rock show vibe, faithful teenagers danced and surrounded the stage during big-sound worship band shows.
The same crowds later fell quiet as the large starburst monstrance with the exposed Eucharist made its way down the corridors and among the kneeling audience at the Steubenville Conference.
Sophia Chorne, 17, worships at St. Michael the Archangel Church. The Saturday night adoration was a highlight of the conference. Chorne said she sat on the edge of the audience, so she was close enough to the monstrance to touch the priest’s vestment.
“It felt like Jesus was just truly present and right there with me,” she said.
Beginning on July 7, the conference drew young women and men with its theme of “Refuge,” reflecting the passage from Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
These annual conferences take place at five locations nationwide. It is an outreach hosted by Life Teen youth ministry and Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Between the music and the presentations, the teens headed outside to play games like Connect Four and engage in other opportunities to meet new people.
Among the teenagers participating were other members of the youth ministry program from St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock. The young people and program director shared their experiences by email.
Lisa Fiamingo, a youth and young adult minister for 30 years in the archdiocese, said “teenagers’ lives are blessed so abundantly at this conference.”
Year after year, the conference organizers bring speakers who connect with young people, great music and a “life changing” Eucharistic procession. In return, participants get an experience that becomes pivotal in their faith walk, she said.
“It’s an experience that every young person should have,” said Fiamingo.
Chorne is a rising senior attending Mother of Divine Grace Catholic Homeschool.
“I would tell people (and I have told people) how amazing it is. I’d tell them what we did and how much I loved and enjoyed it. Joy was everywhere,” Chorne wrote.
Seventeen-year-old Tony Serrato said a lasting memory of the conference is the hundreds of teens “having so much fun while at the same time worshipping God in such a beautiful way.”
The River Ridge High School rising senior said the time of adoration was transformative “in a powerful way that I cannot explain.”
Hector Rolan, 17, is a lector at the parish. He is heading into 12th grade at St. John Bosco Academy. He said the conference speakers offer relatable messages to the crowd.
“It had me and my friends wanting more, exemplified through our cheers when a speaker that we had heard earlier re-appeared on stage for another talk,” he said.
The conference offers a lot, depending on what the person needs, added Rolan. It can be a social event to meet others and it can be spiritual, with the opportunity for confession and adoration.
He called it an unforgettable experience that can be a milestone in teens’ faith lives “when they realized God’s love for them and the world, and that they are truly not alone in their beliefs.”