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‘My faith is everything to me’: Steubenville of the Rockies fans flame of faith for teens

In a world of darkness, three thousand teens answered the call to be Christ’s light at the annual Steubenville of the Rockies youth conference.

Just as “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” as reads the prologue of the Gospel of John from which this year’s conference theme comes, attendees were built up to be a light to the nations.

Like the other Steubenville conferences across the country, Steubenville of the Rockies includes dedicated time for prayer and the sacraments, with Mass and confessions being offered daily, as well as keynote talks delivered by engaging Catholic speakers from all over the world.

Serving as a “spark,” the Steubenville of the Rockies conference is meant to ignite – or reignite – the faith of young people in a new environment, away from their norm of Sunday Mass at their parish and together with other people their age, explained Father Mike Schmitz of the Bible in a Year and Catechism in a Year podcasts, who was one of the keynote speakers for this year’s conference.

“They provide an environment or an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus, the person of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit,” Father Schmitz said. “Obviously, every time we pray, go to Mass or receive the sacraments, we’re encountering the Lord. But I think a lot of us, especially young people who have never had an encounter with Jesus that is life-changing, sometimes need to be in a new environment like a retreat or a conference like this. It’s not about the loudness or the noise or the crowd. It’s about being in a different setting and giving the Lord space to move.”

Teens from as far as Texas, Nevada and Wisconsin joined archdiocesan youth groups at the Gaylord of the Rockies in Denver for that opportunity of retreat and encounter with the Lord Jesus.

Henry McMenus was one of those teens, having attended Steubenville of the Rockies last year with Immaculate Conception Parish in Lafayette. He knew he wanted to participate in this year’s conference again after a moving experience that reinvigorated his faith and led him to take it more seriously at last year’s conference.

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“Steubenville last year was a great experience. It’s the reason I care about my faith,” he told the Denver Catholic. “I came back this year hoping to keep going and diving into my faith.”

After finding himself in a difficult place last year, McMenus said he’s seen how God transforms and gives life.

“God has helped me so much and helped me have a more enjoyable life through him,” he said.

This year, McMenus is moved knowing he’s not alone in that deepened faith, having run into friends and classmates from his public school at the annual conference.

“Today, I saw two kids from my school, and it’s really weird because I go to public school, and I don’t see a lot of Catholics there. I was like, ‘Wait, they’re here?’” McMenus shared. “It was really exciting for me that I’m not alone at my school. My faith is everything to me, so it’s really nice to know that.”

The same communal element that struck and inspired McManus also moved Michaela Fritz, another teen at Immaculate Conception. Her first Steubenville, this year’s conference is leading her deeper in faith and friendship with Jesus and others her age.

“I think my faith is a base foundation for me right now; it’s what’s holding me down,” she told the Denver Catholic. “Being together with so many people from church is a great way to strengthen my faith because I know I’m doing it with other people.”

Indeed, over the course of the weekend, the young attendees are introduced – or reintroduced – to the person of Jesus, who opens hearts, heals wounds and pours out love.

“One of the most beautiful things is watching people open up,” Jackie Francois Angel, another keynote speaker at this year’s conference, told the Denver Catholic, reflecting on the types of teens that attend the Steubenville conferences. For her, she said, seeing the teens with more protected or nervous hearts slowly unfold and open up to Jesus is a great joy.

“That vulnerability leads to intimacy with Jesus; without that vulnerability, you can’t have that intimacy. Over the course of a weekend, it’s so beautiful to see that. It’s a beautiful honor to see God working in people,” she continued.

By the end of the conference, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, teens like McMenus and Fritz have encountered the Lord, made known in the breaking of the bread.

“It’s setting up that encounter so that they can have an actual experience of the presence of God so that their faith can go from head knowledge to a visceral, lived-out experience where they can say, ‘I met Jesus Christ in the Eucharist,’” said Paul J. Kim, another of the conference’s keynote speakers, of the annual conference.

Rather than a one-off weekend of encounter, Steubenville of the Rockies is just the beginning for many teens’ faith journeys. The spark having been lit, attendees return to their communities with faith aflame, ready to begin following Jesus or to recommit to him.

“The purpose of this conference is a spark. That’s all it is; that’s all it can be,” Father Schmitz said. “This is the place of encounter so that when they go back to their parish, someone can say, ‘I’m here to walk with you.’”

With that sort of accompaniment awaiting the young participants, they can be led ever deeper into the Christian life, encouraged to continue a meaningful prayer life, to receive the sacraments and to cultivate a relationship with Jesus.

“This is the spark that’s meant to start a fire that continues to be burned in a parish,” he concluded.

Teens all over the country return Monday from the community of the Steubenville conference to the community of their parishes with belief ablaze, ready to be Christ’s light shining in the darkness.

As they continue to engage their faith after the Steubenville conference, Fritz and McMenus encourage teens like them to remain open to what God has in store.

“Try to be open to whatever God is taking you to because you really have no clue. But try to be open and focus on God, not yourself,” McMenus concluded.

André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira, Jr.
André Escaleira is the Managing Editor of the Denver Catholic and El Pueblo Católico. Originally from Connecticut, André moved to Denver in 2018 to work as a missionary with Christ in the City, where he served for two years.
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