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Limitless Love in Action: First Steubenville Youth Conference Inspires Teens to Bring the Fire Home

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June 18, 2015 - 2:03 PDT


STEUBENVILLE, OH (June 18, 2015) - "If we're not going out and spreading the Gospel, it's just like putting a candle on the floor and putting a basket over it. Let your light shine! Let your lives proclaim the Gospel. Let everything that you are give glory to God in heaven," youth minister and musician Cooper Ray told the 2,000-plus teenagers gathered June 12-14 at Franciscan University of Steubenville for the first of 21 Youth Conferences to be held in the U.S. and Canada this summer.

"We come to this event on this holy hill here in Steubenville so that we can go back to the valley and take what we have received here and give it to the world," he continued.

Ray told the captivated teens that they were not being sent into the world alone. "The Holy Spirit will go with you," he said, encouraging each teen to offer his or her life as a living sacrifice to God and to remain open to his will for them.

Along with other keynote speakers including Joel Stepanek and Mary Bielski, Ray stressed the beauty of Christ's "limitless" love and how vital it is for the teens to open themselves to that love and share it with others.

Second-year youth conference attendee Sarah Parker from Our Lady of Hope Parish in Clare, Michigan, shared that it is difficult, but not impossible, to keep the passion she experiences during the conference kindled. "I get refueled with the Holy Spirit when I come here," she said enthusiastically. "If you continue to pray every day, asking God for the fire, he will definitely help you."

Her friend and first-year conference attendee Cece Gray agreed. "I always wanted to come closer to God, and this has helped so much," she said, adding that the women's session led by Mary Bielski of ALL4HIM Ministries particularly struck her, giving her confidence she didn't have before.

During her session, Bielski spoke to over 1,000 young women about the importance of listening to God's voice through all the voices of the culture bombarding women today. "Know who you are in Christ," she exclaimed. "We hear all of these voices, these voices of the culture, these voices in ourselves, and we have got to combat them with the truth of who we are in Jesus Christ--that we are good, that we are known, that we are loved." Women must be rooted in this, she said, to live for Christ and break free from the culture's lies about who women should be and what they should look like.

At the same time, Stepanek, director of Resource Development for Life Teen International, led a men's session on the tension men face regarding their power to destroy and their power to create. He spoke of the destructiveness that occurs when men and women do not practice chastity, explaining that loving God is the greatest good, not sex. Pacing the stage in the tent where the young men gathered, Stepanek also spoke against apathy, saying that men are called by God to protect what is sacred and to be strong in their faith even when no one thanks them for it. He encouraged them to breathe life, not harm, into everyone they encounter.

Following the men's session, Father Shawn Roberson, TOR, introduced Franciscan University's Priestly Discernment Program, which he directs.

"There are heroes among you," he told them, referring to the priests in the group who have "given their lives to serve the people of God" in a culture that is unfriendly to those who stick up for their faith. He told the young men that some of them would also be called to do this--to bring Christ's body and blood to the world, to forgive sins, and to spread the faith.

The Most Reverend David A. Zubik, bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told the teens during his homily at Sunday Mass that he was honored and humbled to be with so many young people "taking Jesus seriously." He spoke of the parable of the mustard seed, urging the teens to remember that "all of us, no matter our age, no matter where we come from, are little tiny mustard seeds through which God's Spirit can help Jesus come into the lives of others."

To thunderous applause, nearly 500 teenagers walked to the front of Finnegan Fieldhouse following the Mass during the vocations altar call to show their openness to discerning a call to religious life or the priesthood.

Saturday evening, hundreds of teens stood to commit their lives to Christ for the first time in response to conference host Chris Stefanick's cry, "Christ came to bring the dead to life. But guys, you have to go to him when he calls!"

The sense of openness to God's call inspired Ben Schmitmeyer of Holy Trinity Parish in Coldwater, Ohio, who said, "I'm going to try hard to find people who aren't strong in their faith and bring them to Christ." He added that he plans to encourage his friends to come to youth group with him and become more active in their faith.

His youth group's chaperone, Deacon Matt Feist, a 2005 alumnus of Franciscan University, shared that he has attended 10 Steubenville Youth Conferences. "It's always good to see the new generation growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ. That's the whole reason we're here," he said.

Gian Parham, head of the Theology Department at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Belize, Central America, escorted 9 of his students on the 3,060-mile trip to attend the conference.

"[In Belize] we have a charismatic convention for young people once a year," he said, "but nothing of this magnitude. I think just being here, seeing the number of young people who are fired up for Jesus Christ--that's inspirational. It gives me a sense of hope that the faith will be passed on, and we have to believe and trust in our young people."

The sacrament of reconciliation was offered frequently throughout the weekend. Teaching the teens about confession, Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, stressed the personal nature of sin. "When we sin," he said, "we don't just break this law or rule," but rather a heart. The teens meditated with bowed heads as Father Pivonka proceeded to lead an examination of conscience.

During the weekend, a prayer ministry team was available for the teens, along with opportunities for eucharistic adoration and daily Mass. There was also time aside for small group discussions as well as a speaker book signing during which the teens could socialize with the Ministry Team.

Now in its 40th year, Franciscan University of Steubenville Summer Conferences began in 1975 with a single conference attended by 600 priests. This year, Franciscan University will offer 6 adult, 2 young adult, and 21 youth conferences in 11 states and 2 Canadian provinces that will reach over 53,000 people. Visit for a complete list of conferences.

Photo of Cooper Ray:
Photo of Mary Bielski:
Photo of Bishop Zubik:
Photos of conference attendees: and


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


Summer Conferences, Franciscan University, Mary Bielski, Cooper Ray, Joel Stepanek, Chris Stefanick


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