By Tanya Connor
The Catholic Free Press
“Jesus Christ was just a few feet away from us!”
Alyssa Mulry, 17, was talking about adoration last Saturday at the Steubenville East youth conference, held at UMass Lowell. A priest carrying a monstrance around the arena stopped above her.
“It just made me so much more humble,” she said. “He died for us, so we should be able to do anything for him.”
You could say that one thing she did for Jesus was to get her sister Lauren, 14, and their mother, Christine, to attend Steubenville East. Mrs. Mulry is administrator of religious education at their parish, St. Patrick’s in Rutland.
Steubenville East was one of 23 conferences for teenagers that Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, is offering in the United States and Canada this summer, conference leaders said. Life Teen hosts five of them, including the one in Lowell.
This was Alyssa’s second time at the conference, but a first for her sister, her mother and their pastor, Father C. Michael Broderick.
“The kids asked me last year” to come this year, Father Broderick said after concelebrating the conference’s Saturday morning Mass with Bishop McManus. (At least nine other clergymen from the Worcester Diocese also participated.)
Father Broderick said he would tell his parishioners about the “cool” conference. He said most adults haven’t seen prayer like that.
Bishop McManus was impressed that there were so many people willingly, publicly celebrating their faith. He had celebrated Mass for a Steubenville East conference years ago, he said, and had the same impression.
In his homily, Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka told about praying for 46 years for his mother’s healing.
“If my hope is in my mom’s being healed, I’m always going to be frustrated and angry,” Father Pivonka said; one must hope in God. “God loves me, no matter what.”
Bishop McManus reinforced the message. “Be ready to give an account of that hope that is in you – Jesus Christ, who is our way, our truth and our life,” he said, paraphrasing I Peter 3:15.
The bishop told the youth that 60,000 of their peers were experiencing the same thing they were experiencing. The number 60,000 comes from a tally of the other venues where the Steubenville conferences are being held this year. Leaders said 3,200 attended Steubenville East and came from about 10 states and Bermuda. An estimated 250 youth were from the Worcester Diocese.
Bishop McManus said he was asked to give a “special shout-out” to Worcester diocesan participants, who cheered when he did so. “Am I glad I remembered that!” the bishop quipped.
Prior to the conference, Magdalen Paul, 16, of Mary, Queen of the Rosary Parish in Spencer, attended a leadership conference called LEAD (Leadership, Evangelization And Discipleship). It was also held at UMass Lowell, Monday through Friday.
“The goal is to train and empower youth to really experience the Catholic faith” and share it with peers at the conference and at home, she said.
It was her first time at Steubenville and LEAD.
“Out of the two combined I really, truly developed a stronger relationship with God. I learned different ways of praying. I was really able to develop leadership skills for evangelization. Another big part of it was the opportunity to meet other youth my age who share the same faith.”
The conference not only provided an opportunity to share the faith but talks tackled pertinent issues, including authentic love and same-sex attraction, said Father Nicholas Desimone, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge.
“Every year it (the conference) is always a profound encounter with the Lord for teenagers and for me personally,” he said.
Other diocesan clergy also had positive encounters.
“My experience with the confessions was amazing,” said Father Carlos A. Ruiz, associate pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Leominster. “Instead of being God for them, I think they were God for me. … I saw … the suffering Jesus who wanted to come to be healed.”
Father Nelson Rivera, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester, also said confessions were powerful, and that was a sign to him.
“What’s very impressive is the number of kids involved … always upbeat and positive,” said Deacon Joseph D. Rice, whose seminarian summer assignment is St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton.
Father Rivera suggested having more events like this, maybe at the diocesan level; “it really helps the kids.”
The reaction of Zachary Hauge proves his point. “You feel, like, God’s presence, and it’s amazing. You meet all kinds of new people,” said the 16-year-old from St. Joseph Parish, Charlton. “I wasn’t expecting this huge thing, like a party.… One of the things I absolutely love is there’s so many people with signs for free hugs.