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Unique experience

Posted By July 24, 2014 | 1:19 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

unique, hard-to-describe, truly Catholic experience with awesome teenagers.
That’s how some described last weekend’s Steubenville East youth conference that drew about 250 members of the Worcester Diocese to the University of Rhode Island, along with hundreds from other states.
“Thirty-three hundred (almost 3,600) Catholic youth singing and praising and worshipping God … It just kind of takes your breath away,” marveled Joseph Krans, leader chaperon for the seven teenaged-participants from St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish in Sturbridge. He said it was the largest Steubenville East conference ever.
Elizabeth Cotrupi, director of the Worcester Diocese’s youth ministry office, New Evangelization Worcester for Youth & Young Adults, said she was told there were nearly 3,600 participants.
Steubenville East is one of 20 high school youth conferences being held around the United States and Canada this year by Franciscan University of Steubenville, which 30 years ago was holding one joint high school/college conference on campus each summer. For the past few years, the LifeTeen religious education/youth ministry program hosts the Northeastern United States conference, using facilities at URI.
“The mission of the Steubenville Conferences is to invite young people into a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ through the Sacraments of the Church and the power of the Holy Spirit,” says the website “This experience of Christ’s love opens their hearts to become His disciples and embrace the mission of the Catholic Church.”
There are also conferences for young adults and other adults.
Mr. Krans said more than 1,500 teenagers went to confession at Steubenville East this year; many times there were more than 100 in line, waiting for one of about 20 priests.
“For me the most touching part was during adoration,” he said. After the priest leading it had been processing around the arena with the monstrance for almost an hour and a half, “the camera focused on one of the acolytes, and he was in tears from having brought Jesus to 3,300 people.” There weren’t many dry eyes.
“Steubenville East is a very unique experience,” Mr. Krans said. “The combination of worship, music, speakers, and talks that the kids can really relate to, and then the Mass and adoration and worship, the opportunity for confession – it’s truly a Catholic experience for the kids.
“There are a lot of people today who speak of this generation of kids in a very negative light. But I get the opportunity, through Just5Days, Young Neighbors in Action and Steubenville East to see them at their best.”
He said he accompanied young parishioners on the service-learning experiences Just5Days in Springfield, Mass., last week and YNIA in Washington, D.C., two weeks ago. It was a long two-and-a-half weeks, but well worth it, he said.
Mr. Krans’ 15-year-old daughter, Jordan, said this Steubenville East conference was different than the previous one she attended; there were different priests and speakers and a different theme.
The theme was “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and song, and he has become my salvation.” (Is. 12:2)
“God could be, like, many different things, like he can be forgiving, helpful,” Jordan said, explaining how the theme was used.
“My favorite part would probably be the music sessions and adoration, because that part was really strong and you could really feel Jesus’ presence,” she said.
She said it showed her she needed to “be with the Church more” and “find my way to God.” Asked if that’s why she attended youth night at the St. Anne Novena at her parish Monday, she answered in the affirmative.
Allison “Ally” Graff, 16, of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton, also attended the youth night and her second Steubenville East conference.
“The fact that there were 3,000 teenagers – we’re all there for the same reason,” she said of conference. “We’re all into it. We all have the same beliefs. I’d definitely recommend it for all my friends. It’s a life-changing experience.”
“You get a lot stronger in your faith,” she said, adding that the youth see they are not alone in being young and having strong faith. The conference helps them in their experience of God, she said.
“Steubenville East isn’t something you can easily describe unless you experience it for yourself,” commented Catherine “Cat” Tierney, a member of St. Gabriel, the Archangel Parish in Upton who’s going into her sophomore year in high school. “It’s different for everyone that goes. But I can say that it is a lot of fun!”
“Combine 3,600 teens, youth ministers, priests and religious together with inspirational, yet down-to-earth speakers and loud music with meaningful lyrics, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and hours of deep prayer in eucharistic adoration – you get Steubenville East!” said Eileen “Neeni” Francis, a St. Gabriel’s youth minister.
“I was honored to be with the most awesome teens of our diocese this weekend. They were joyful, thoughtful, prayerful, respectful, polite and mostly fun!”
She said messages they heard included: “God wants to be in a relationship with you; Be one hundred percent Catholic; Nothing is impossible with God; You cannot live your Christianity on your own; To love is to serve; Immerse yourself in the Word of God and Everyone is called to be a saint.”
“As our teens return to their faith communities, they will bring these messages to the faithful because we all need to hear these messages,” she said.