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Youth Conference Brings Teens 'Face to Face' With God

7/17/2014 - 12:59 PM PST

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STEUBENVILLE, OH (July 17, 2014) - Musician Bob Rice officially kicked off the July 11-13 High School Youth Conference with the song "Not Waiting for the Afterlife," but the 1,800 teens freshly arrived at Franciscan University of Steubenville didn't wait for the live music to start their weekend. They spilled out into the aisles to line-dance to "The Cupid Shuffle," form conga lines, and act out the songs from the hit film "Frozen."

By the time host Chris Padgett stepped onstage, nothing could dampen their spirits.

"Maybe you're doing it great, and this year is your best year with God ever. Maybe some of you were invited to come here under false pretenses. Maybe some of you don't even know where you are right now." As the teens laughed, he continued, "No matter your situation, I believe that God has something major in store for you. God has a special message for you and your heart."

As the talks began, the enthusiasm transformed into quiet meditation. Many of the youth lifted up their hands or fell to their knees in worship, reflecting on this year's theme—"God Is."

Youth minister David Calavitta said during the opening, "We all have a different idea, perspective, thought of who God is. And the even greater reality is that God is not who we think he is. He is more. Our thought of God is the single most important thought you will ever have, because your thought of God determines who you let him be in your life."

Padgett encouraged the teens to make themselves comfortable, assuring them that they could stand with their hands raised while singing or stay seated. "You get to be you. You don't have to be like us."

The guest speakers were themselves examples of honesty and sincerity, incorporating their own difficult life experiences—divorce and forgiveness, dating and raising children, agnosticism, miscarriage, even suicide—into their talks.

Matt Fradd, a Catholic speaker from Australia who converted from agnosticism after going to a World Youth Day, examined many of the arguments he once used against God's existence in his talk, "God Is Real."

"When someone says 'There's no scientific proof for God,'" he explained, "the first thing you have to ask is, 'What is science?' People have this deified idea of science, like it's some quasi-deity. Science is an inductive process of investigation that we invented to discover truths about the natural world. So it's right that there is no scientific proof for God because science is concerned with the natural, not the supernatural. It can neither prove nor disprove the supernatural."

This was the third Steubenville youth conference for high school senior Emily Judd from St. Mary's Church in Lowell, Michigan.

"I hope to change myself, and then to lead by example in my parish, so that they want to get closer to the Holy Spirit and God, like I do," she said.

Chris Davis, a junior from Millington, Michigan, who attends St. Francis Xavier Church in Otisville, was one of the teens attending for the first time. He appreciated the environment of the campus. "It's beautiful and serene, and the hilly landscape gives me a sense of peace."

Natalie Robertson, D'Angelo Laaz, and Trinity Travis, all freshmen, traveled six hours from Corydon, Indiana, at the suggestion of their teachers and youth minister at St. Joseph Catholic Church. They were excited at the availability of the sacraments.

"I want to be closer to the fellow kids from church," said Travis, who often works with younger children at the parish. "And develop a more comfortable attitude toward confession."

Many of the other participants were in agreement with this and even waited for two hours for the sacrament of reconciliation.

"I want to have the ability to confess everything, not hide something," Laaz said, standing with his two friends in front of the growing line of teens outside Christ the King Chapel. "As the speakers said last night, there's nothing that the priest wouldn't expect."

Robertson appreciated the dynamism of Father John Parks, who celebrated daily Mass and presided over eucharistic adoration. "He really spoke to me. It applied to my life. That's never happened to me before in a homily."

The high schoolers all proved they could balance their enthusiasm for spontaneous conga lines with a joy-filled reverence in the eucharistic presence of Jesus. Some fell to their knees and many shed tears as Father Parks processed through the fieldhouse with the Eucharist. Youth leaders noted how teens they had known for years, who would normally never be caught crying, showed their vulnerability as they reached toward the monstrance.

"Eucharistic adoration is my favorite part for sure," said Elizabeth Hanna, a junior who attends St. Mary of the Falls Church in Olmstead Falls, Ohio. "You get to be face to face with God. With the ...

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