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High Schoolers Experience 'Jesus in the Eucharist' at Youth Conferences 2012

June 29, 2012 - 12:29 PDT


STEUBENVILLE, OH (June 29, 2012) - The sound of more than 2,000 enthusiastic teenage voices shouting inside Franciscan University of Steubenville's Finnegan Fieldhouse was rivaled only by the energetic Christian music pumping from the speakers--both of which could be heard distinctly from outside the building. Giant beach balls being tossed around, high schoolers and chaperones alike dressed in colorful tee shirts with slogans such as "EPIC: Every Person In Christ," "Lettuce Pray," and "Super Ninjas for Christ," could only mean one thing: a Franciscan Youth Conference 2012 was about to begin.

"God is always worthy of our worship, and it doesn't just make him feel good about himself. It's more that he wants us to ask him, 'Daddy, help us,'" said youth minister and popular speaker Brian Kissinger '04, host of the June 22-24 youth conference. The second of the four conferences held on Franciscan's main campus, a total of 18 will be held across the United States and Canada and will reach over 38,000 youth.

Kissinger emphasized that in order to be transformed by God not only this weekend but for the rest of their lives, the teens needed to commit themselves to God entirely.

"Commitment is not about holding you back; commitment is allowing you to be fully free," he said.

Kissinger was joined by worship leader and Franciscan University professor Bob Rice; international speaker, musician, and missionary Sean Forrest; Franciscan Pathways director Father Dave Pivonka, TOR; Internet Ministries for Life Teen director Matt Smith; and singer and acclaimed speaker Joia Farmer.

The conference offered Mass and confession opportunities with a primary focus being Saturday night Eucharistic adoration. There, within the dimly lit Finnegan Fieldhouse, teens, who earlier had been jumping and singing to lively music, quieted and knelt reverently when Father Pivonka processed with the Blessed Sacrament in a golden monstrance.

Father Pivonka encouraged the teens to be open to whatever healing or blessings God had in store for them during the weekend, explaining that people often forget how important the Eucharist is.

"The question is, do we really believe? Jesus says 'I am the Bread of Life, if you eat my body and blood, you have Eternal Life in you.' Think about that--the heavenly Father is going to feed us," he said. "This is a gift."

Sean Forrest offered a special talk for returning conference attendees, focused on breaking free from the idols of this culture, particularly a mistaken notion of someone "they call Jesus."

"But it's not the Jesus of Scripture, it's not the Jesus of 2,000 years ago," he said. "It's the Jesus they've made in their own image. It's the girl who says, 'God wanted me to be happy, so I aborted the child.' God has called you to holiness, not to have happy experiences, but to have joy in what you'll find in encountering Jesus in a deeper level."

Two talks, held separately for the young men and the young women, focused on the power of virtuous living in everyday life.

Joia Farmer shared her testimony of healing from a life of using and being used by men. She explained that one day she had spoken with an old college friend who asked if he could pray with her, and though it was an uphill battle, she was eventually led to join the Catholic Church. She also revealed that this college friend was her now-husband, Brad.

"God helps us regain ground we lost," she said, inspiring the girls to grow in purity and the four cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Matt Smith mirrored the importance of the cardinal virtues in his talk with the guys, discussing how the virtues are there to guide us when we need to make both big and small decisions.

"The only way we can become better men is through our relationship with God," he added. "And our relationship with God will not grow unless we're willing to commit the time."

After both talks, the teens were given chastity pledge cards and encouraged to pray about signing the cards to signify their willingness to save themselves for their future vocations.

As the weekend came to a close on Sunday morning, Kissinger spoke before Mass and reminded the teens that their experience was exactly the same as what they could experience in their home churches.

"The best part of this weekend, by far, was Jesus in the Eucharist and asking for the Holy Spirit. You know where you can do this? In your home parish," he said. "You can always adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in your home parish. Nothing that you experienced here is limited at home. It's the same Jesus, the same God that rose from the dead and redeemed you."

At the end of Mass, Father Pivonka and Sister Elizabeth Beussink, TOR, Franciscan University's assistant director of Evangelization, welcomed teens open to the possibility of a religious vocation to stand and come to the front of the sanctuary. A large number of young women and men stood and walked forward.

"You guys need to pray. Your vocation is really in the hands of God," said Father Pivonka to the men.

Sister Beussink told the girls, "It takes a lot of courage to come up here, I know," but that, "to be God's spouse is a beautiful vocation."

They asked the rest of the attendees to pray for these teens, telling the teens to pray, talk to a priest, and be open to visiting religious communities and going on discernment retreats.

The teenagers were not the only ones who enjoyed the weekend.

Brother Joseph Anthony Kress, OP, '10, who chaperoned a youth group from his parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, referred to the conference as "getting back to the basics" of Catholicism, and a "booster shot or a launch pad; for many, it helped strengthen their faith."

This was the third conference for Jessica Langton, a junior from Monroe, Michigan, and every year has taught her something different.

"Our youth ministers say that what you put into it is what you get out of it," she said, explaining that especially this weekend, she felt a strong calling to "think about what God's calling me to do" with the rest of her life.

Springfield, Illinois, junior Ryan Kehoe hopes to carry his conference experience into the real world by "trying to bring joy and peace to others and to increase my prayer life."

"When people ask me why I'm so joyful, I'll tell them 'I just love God,'" he said. "What's not to be happy about?"

Olivia Kukanich, a sophomore from Norfolk, Virginia, said this conference changed her entire outlook on life.

"I fell in love with Jesus," she said. "The talks hit me a lot stronger and went to the core of what I'm going through."

Upcoming Franciscan University summer conferences for adults include the St. John Bosco Conference for Catholic educators (July 18-22), the Applied Biblical Studies Conference for anyone seeking a deeper knowledge and understanding of Scripture (July 25-27), and the Defending the Faith Conference, which focuses on Catholic apologetics (July 29-31).

For more information on conferences for adults and youth, go to


Franciscan University of Steubenville
OH, 43952 US
Tom Sofio - Associate Director of Public Relations,


High school youth, teenagers, Catholic conference, Franciscan University, Steubenville



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