Steubenville, NCYC, and ND Vision offer fun overwhelming spiritual experiences
By Tammy Papreck
"What does this Church have for me?" This question was posed to me several years ago by a teen who was considering joining the Catholic Church. I must admit that at the time, I did not have an answer for her. She had been invited to join another congregation's youth group and to go on their ski trip and on their mission trip. All this sounds like fun. At the time, I was not involved in youth ministry, but I volunteered shortly after that to work with youth. What a wonderful surprise it was to find the Catholic Church does have much to offer!
Franciscan University Youth Conferences, better known as Steubenville Conferences, are amazing events. The closest conference is Steubenville St. Louis/Mid-America that is held in Springfield, Mo. This conference is held two weekends per year, usually in July. When the registration opens online it is filled within minutes. If you procrastinate 10 minutes, you can count on being on the waiting list.
You will find approximately 2,000 young people from all over the United States attending the conference. They gather in an auditorium for concerts, large group talks and (of course) Mass. There are also small-group sessions and men's and women's sessions. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available throughout the weekend.
The weekend also includes a most-overwhelming time of Adoration. When Dylan Fornshell attended Steubenville the first time he said, "Adoration was my favorite part because I had never fully understood the perspective of it actually being in the Real Presence of Jesus until then."
Don't tell the youth, but the entire weekend is focused on vocations. This event honors all vocations and helps young people consider the possibilities. Most don't even realize they are thinking about vocations until the final day of the event. They interact with priests, monks, friars and sisters throughout the entire weekend - not just in conferences but on the basketball court, playing volleyball and even dancing. They see religious and priests as "real people," just like themselves. It is amazing to watch.
On Sunday after Mass, those young people who are discerning a specific vocation are asked to come forward. Henry Yeagle attended the conference in 2006. When the invitation came, he stood and went forward. "It was nice," he recently recalled, "because I was thinking about the Priesthood, and in going up to the front, I actually was showing other people about it and making it a more open thing."
Steubenville is a very personal - even intimate - experience. Contrast that with 20,000-plus youth in one place at one time. That would be NCYC (the National Catholic Youth Conference). NCYC occurs every two years in different locations. This year, it will be held Nov. 19-21 in Kansas City, Mo. This event is a celebration of the Catholic faith. The remark made to me by most of the young people who have attended is something like, "How cool this is to be in the same place with all these other teenagers who share the same beliefs I have!"
There are large-group events and speakers when all 20,000 are present. There are also smaller groups with specific topics, concerts, and even interactive events where you can ask questions of priests and bishops. This list of activities, groups and talks are too numerous to mention, but you can look online and get information from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (nfcym.org).
I have not even touched on the nationally known speakers and musicians who attend these events or that there is an Adoration chapel open and reconciliation available. In an exhibit hall, participants can meet some of the speakers and purchase items such as T-shirts and music recordings. There is also an area in the hall that is called "Masters Clubhouse" (which is the vocations corner). The most recent NCYC had 27 groups present focusing on vocations.
The closing Mass is amazing. No one complains when it takes over 30 minutes for the procession of hundreds of priests to enter the arena. The youth are excited that so many priests have come "for us."
You may be looking for something else. Well, the Catholic Church has more. ND Vision is another opportunity. This is a weeklong event for youth. They are taught and mentored by Notre Dame University students, along with more nationally renowned speakers. This was a very different experience for me. I attended the ND Vision CYM for youth ministers. For the first time, I was on the same campus as the youth but not in charge of them.
The adult training classes were wonderful. The youth also had a very good experience. Many have expressed an interest in attending again. "They had all kinds of cool music, and they interacted with you and didn't just sit there and talk," said Eden Elfrink. "They go and talk to people in the crowd and keep you into it."
Take your pick
One thing that can be said about all the events is that the speakers and musicians become familiar to the youth. They see many of the same faces at each of the events. No single event is better than the other. They each meet a very specific and different need for youth. One way or another, we all have to kiss our kids goodbye. I will hope and pray that it is to attend one of our many Catholic youth events which not only provide a great experience in the Catholic faith but also FUN!