The 17th annual Steubenville of the Rockies youth conference held July 18-20 hosted its largest group ever: welcoming 2,450 teenagers for three days of music, fun, fellowship and prayer—all focused on engaging young people in the sacraments.
“Tonight we’re offering confession, the sacrament of reconciliation,” Father John Nepil, parochial vicar from Queen of Peace Parish in Aurora, told the packed room on opening night at the Crowne Plaza Denver International Airport Convention Center. “That’s the last thing that you want to do right now.”
His talk followed three hours of high-energy praise and worship music from Ben Walther, inspirational talks from youth ministers Steve Angrisano, Chris Mueller and Leah Darrow; and an intense time of eucharistic adoration.
“You don’t want to go get in line and confess the deepest darkest secrets of your life,” Father Nepil continued. “But you should do it, because God cannot work in your soul unless you get the crap out of there, all right? You’ve got to get it cleaned out and then God can get to work. So just do it, grab your friend and get in that line!”
Twenty-five priests sat ready to hear confessions and when the evening wrapped up at midnight, 712 teens had gone to confession. By the end of the weekend, 1,680 confessions were heard—nearly 70 percent of attendees—by a total of 45 priests, over the course of 13 available hours.
The Denver conference, a longtime outreach of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, was one of 20 Steubenville conferences nationwide this summer—and one of five held that weekend reaching a total of 13,300 teens.
“Steubenville is very much centered around the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist,” explained Michelle Peters, director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Denver Archdiocese. “Once kids understand the sacraments, that’s when they fall in love and want to be part of the Church and the community. Until they totally understand it, it’s just something that they do.”
During her talk, Darrow relayed her experience of returning to confession after several years away.
“There was a period of my life of about 10 years when I was completely unfaithful consistently,” she said. “I made bad choice, after bad choice, after bad choice.”
Those bad choices, generally around relationships, she said, started in high school, carried over to college and continued after she auditioned for the reality TV series “America’s Next Top Model” and was living in New York. Needing to hit the re-set button in her life, she headed to confession.
“I found myself in one of those confession lines like I hope you find yourself in this weekend,” she said. But once in the confessional, she lost her nerve.
“I don’t want to be here,” she began when the priest slid the screen, then she broke down. “I don’t know how to tell you the things that I’ve done.”
He responded with compassion.
“Try it this way: give God your biggest sin first,” he suggested.
“I gave God my biggest sin,” she said and from there, she was able to give it all to him.
“Give him everything,” she advised the teens, “because God is mercy and his mercy is for you.”
Matraca Bartel, 14, attending with her youth group from St. James the Just in Ogden, Utah, was moved by Darrow’s testimony.
“I liked how she confessed to all of us,” Bartel said. “She wasn’t just talking … she really got into it and told us everything.”
Laney Moreno, 16, also from the St. James’, agreed.
“I really liked her, and I really liked how she liked herself,” she said. “She confessed everything she’d done, but she was OK about it. She wasn’t sad about it.”
Priests participating at Steubenville appreciated the focus on reconciliation as well, according to Deacon Don Schaefer from Holy Name Parish in Englewood, who has coordinated priests for sacraments and liturgies for Steubenville of the Rockies for 10 years.
“Some priests tell me they hear more confessions (at Steubenville) than they hear the rest of the year combined at their parish,” he said. “They love it.”
The weekend continued with more keynote talks, breakout sessions, entertainment by Popple, a two-man acoustic rock ministry; two Masses, each with 20-plus celebrants; and vocation altar calls that drew an estimated 450 young men and women considering priesthood or religious life. Next year’s Steubenville of the Rockies is set for June 19-21, 2015. For updates, visit steubenvilleoftherockies.com.
Steubenville of the Rockies 2014 | By the Numbers
Confessions heard: 1,680
Priests hearing confessions: 45
Makeshift confessionals: 25
Hours available for confession: 13
Estimated vocational calls: 450