Orlando| Instead of basking in the sun over these final few weeks of summer break, nearly 2,500 youth flocked to Orlando to soak in the presence of God. The theme of the 2018 Steubenville Florida Conference “Revealed” was based on 1 John 4:9 where God revealed Himself to us through His son and, in turn, is revealed in us when we live authentically.
“These days we live in a world where voices are shouting at us from all sides, trying to tell us who we are and who we aren’t; who we should be and who we shouldn’t be,” says diocesan youth ministry director, Carlos Bernard, Jr. “If we pay too much attention to these voices, it won’t be long before we forget our true identity altogether. Amidst all the noise is our loving Father, who wants to make Himself known to us and speaks truth about who we are.”
Teenagers from all over the Diocese of Orlando walked away from the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort profoundly impacted including Ana N., a 15-year old from St. Mary of the Lakes Parish in Eustis. She explained that the environment, preparation and guidance received before Eucharistic Adoration helped her find “ways to connect to Jesus.”
Youth minister, Adrienne Garalde, from St. Matthew Parish in Winter Haven can relate. He had a “reconversion experience” at his first Steubenville conference six years ago. “I actually fell back in love with the faith,” he shared. “God knocked down a lot of walls in my life that made me want to make a 180 (degrees).” Garalde was happy to pay it forward to the youth he mentors now. “The theme helped them see that wherever we are in our lives, God can reveal Himself if we allow ourselves to look.”
Bishop Noonan celebrated Mass at the unique 3-day experience July 27-29. He offered the Sacrament of Reconciliation and bonded with the teens. “Some would come to Confession and return the next day and say, you know I thought about that and it really works,” he remembered. Many of the students also told bishop they were “leaving with a greater awareness of who God is in their lives.” Overall, he described it as a great experience for kids to be together and see that their faith is something they can share not only with their parents, but also with other like-minded young people.
Father Anthony Aarons, chaplain for Bishop Moore Catholic High School, concelebrated with the bishop and reconnected with many students he has not seen since school let out for summer. Father Aarons said his favorite moments were also hearing confessions. A close second he shared, “seven students came up to me to say they’re considering a vocation to religious life – three girls and four boys.”
He also posted a comedic snapshot on Instagram of him and Bishop Noonan joking in the hallways. Bishop has a huge grin and his crosier playfully hooked around the priest’s neck. The caption – “Bishop Noonan with his staff keeping the sheep from straying.” Father Aarons noted the bishop’s warm personality truly won over the young people. “Another boy came up to me and said ‘what have I done that God allowed me to meet this bishop here and he talked with me.’” That conversation with Bishop Noonan convinced the young man to join others who were confessing their sins.
Jahiedy Viñas, youth minister at Resurrection Parish in Winter Garden, says the conference truly made the Church come alive for her teenagers and hopes to chaperone another group next year. “The Lord is always going to love you, with arms wide open, no matter what you have done,” she shared. “No matter who you think you are, you are loved by Him.”
More than 50,000 Catholic teens across North America attended similar gatherings this summer. To learn more and for future events visit steubenvilleconferences.com.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic – August 1, 2018