Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Gonzaga University to host hundreds of teens for Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the July 31, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
“Our hearts are overflowing with excitement and anticipation for what the Lord has in store for each of us this weekend at the Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference,” said Bob Falkner, executive director of Spiritus Ministries Northwest, based in Olympia, Wash.
Spiritus Ministries Northwest serves as the regional organizer for the Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference, which will be hosted by Gonzaga University from Friday, Aug. 1 through Sunday, Aug. 3. An outreach of Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, 19 youth conferences are being held this summer at 13 sites all across the U.S. and Canada.
“The first such youth conference was held in 1976,” Falkner said, “and was attended by over 1,000 young people. By 1985 the conference was drawing over 3,100 youth, and the next year the conference was split into two,” one for high school students and one for young adults.
Today, “Attendance at all of the youth conferences has topped 38,000 teens,” Falkner said, “and is the highlight and destination for hundreds of youth groups all over the country and Canada each summer.”
Similar to all of the Steubenville Youth Conferences, the event on the GU campus will combine “awesome talks, incredible music, praise and worship, time for prayer and fellowship, entertainment, and anointed liturgies. Basically, it’s a time to get rocked by God, to get serious about life in Christ and his Church, and to learn the truth of the Gospel.”
The theme for the 2008 Steubenville Youth Conferences is “Witness,” a reference to Acts 1:8, in which Jesus tells the apostles, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”
“The weekend usually moves teens from a self-centered approach to life to a Christ-centered approach,” said Falkner. “There are many opportunities for Reconciliation, Mass each day, Adoration on Friday and Saturday evenings, and multiple opportunities to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.”
According to Falkner, what distinguishes a Steubenville Youth Conference from other events for Catholic youth is “its openness to the moving of the Holy Spirit. This conference is covered in prayer by people all over the state and the country. Teens at this conference are encouraged strongly to evaluate their faith life as it is right now and to consider strongly where they want to be in regard to their relationship with Christ. It’s not just a weekend of fun and games, but rather, a weekend filled with challenge and hard-hitting talks that are meant to turn hearts and get teens thinking in new ways. As Father Stan Fortuna, a frequent speaker at the conferences, says, it’s time to get rid of the ‘stinkin’ thinkin” and clear the heart and head for Jesus.”
Speakers at the Steubenville Northwest Youth Conference include Brian Kissinger, a 2004 graduate of Franciscan University who is a junior high youth minister and Life Teen music minister at St. Alexis Parish in Wexford, Pa. According to a media release, “when he’s not praying, Brian spends his time teaching reptiles to speak English.”
Other speakers will be Tammy Evevard, of Boulder, Colo., who is featured frequently on cable TV’s EWTN and CNN; John Beaulieu, a 1989 graduate of Franciscan University and frequent speaker at Catholic youth conferences; Jason Evert, another Franciscan University grad who is an author and speaker who focuses on challenging youth to embrace the virtue of chastity; Sean Forrest, a musician, author and youth minister, and a former Baptist who converted to Catholicism in 1995; Father Larry Richards, pastor of an inner city parish in Erie, Pa., who has directed hundreds of retreats, parish missions, and conferences for young and old alike; and Father John Amsberry, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., who, the media release said, “wanted to be wealthy and have a big family (but) God called Father John to be a priest and gave him a new definition of wealth and a big family.”
Steubenville Youth Conferences tend to have many different outcomes, said Falkner.
“The first is that the personal relationship with Christ and each teen grows in such a way that the teens begin to understand their faith in a whole new way.... When you know Christ, the Eucharist comes alive and the grace of the sacraments take on a whole new meaning and purpose.”
Second, “the youth groups in attendance bond through their common experience of the Holy Spirit, and their experience of praise and worship of our God together with 1,000 other youth. This bond tends to carry on through the year as they have a powerful common denominator from which to relate.”
Third, “the teens start to grasp the ‘larger church’ in the Northwest as we have groups coming from Canada, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Oregon.”
Bishop William Skylstad will attend the Steubenville Youth Conference on Friday evening to welcome everyone to the Diocese of Spokane, and on Saturday morning he will preside at Mass. “He has been so gracious and welcoming with us,” Falkner said. “We won’t do a conference in a diocese without the blessing of the bishop or archbishop, so it was so nice to be able to come to Spokane and receive such a personable welcome and approval. Gonzaga University has been very gracious working with us, and we are so grateful” to Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer, GU’s president, for his support. Falkner also expressed his gratitude to other GU staff, including the “Conference Services Department and Rodolfo Pagsanjan who have worked tirelessly to make sure this conference will be the experience of a lifetime for the teens in the Pacific Northwest.”
About 1,000 youth are expected to attend, he said.
(IR photos courtesy of Spiritus Ministries Northwest)