Young people pray during the Steubenville East Catholic Youth Conference held at The Tsongas Center in Lowell July 19. Nearly 3,000 people gathered for the three day conference sponsored by LifeTeen that featured Catholic speakers and music. Pilot photo/Christopher S. Pineo
LOWELL -- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley joined thousands of youth, young adults, and youth ministers at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, July 19, for the closing Mass of the Steubenville East Catholic Youth Conference hosted by Life Teen.
The conference ran from July 17 until July 19, at the new venue for the event that outgrew the University of Rhode Island in recent years. Organizers estimate approximately 3,000 people attend this year's conference.
Throughout the weekend, young people and those who minister to them encountered the faith through talks from evangelizers, catechists and apologists. Speakers included Brian Kissinger, a youth minister and high school Theology of the Body teacher; Katie Hartfiel, a Catholic author and speaker; Paul J. Kim, an international youth speaker, vocalist, and beatboxer; and Father Jose Robles-Sanchez, an 18-year veteran of Steubenville Conferences.
Themed "Limitless" for 2015, the conference included a talk from Kissinger on the limitless love of God to his people, a talk from Harfiel on how young people can protect their heart and body, and a talk from Father Robles-Sanchez on the limitless love Catholics should have for God.
At the closing Mass, the crowd prayed and sang as Catholic musician Jon Niven played the arrangements.
Cardinal O'Malley focused his homily on the need for leaders in the Church, particularly with a focus on responding to the limitless love of God.
"Steubenville East shows us how God keeps his promises, preparing good leaders in his Church," he said.
He referenced the Gospel reading from St. Mark, in which the disciples are sent out in pairs to announce the good news.
"Jesus sends these new-leaders-in-training out. Because discipleship is never a solo flight, He sends them two-by-two. We learn to be disciples the way that we learn a language, by being part of a community that speaks that language," he said.
After the Mass Father Robles-Sanchez called young people considering a vocation to religious life up for a special blessing from the cardinal. The cardinal spoke about the need to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to follow him, sometimes down a path that might demand sacrifice as in Mark 10:21-22 when Christ calls a rich young man to give away his wealth and follow him.
"The Gospel says the rich young man went away sad. Here Jesus was calling him to be an apostle, and when you read this Gospel, you'd like to just run down the road after him and say, 'Listen you dummy, come back,' you know. How many people were not baptized or didn't hear the good news of the Gospel because you had too much money, and you were too concerned about it? So, our decisions affect so many people," Cardinal O'Malley said.
The cardinal pointed to the love of God, a love the young man failed to grasp even as the Gospel points out that Jesus looked on him with love, as a key element in responding to the call to individual vocation.
"I am sure that if that young man even suspected how much the Lord loved him, he would have gladly given his money away and followed the Lord. Each of you here is being called to some vocation in the life of the Church, and your happiness and the happiness and salvation of other people is going to depend on whether you get it right. Because if you say no to whatever vocation God is calling you to, you're free to do that, but you're going to walk away in sadness and into darkness. The way that we find a vocation is through prayer in discernment, and the way we have enough courage to say yes is when we realize how much the Lord loves us," the cardinal said.
The lighting and venue resembled a rock concert, before it actually turned into a rock-concert scene as Niven played a set before organizers dismissed the young people to close the weekend off with lunch.
Peter Graziano, a senior at Central Catholic, responded to the vocation call and said he visualizes himself learning to offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in Latin one day.
"In the sight of the amazing, wonderful sacrifice that Christ had for me, I cannot help but give all my life back to him. My greatest desire is to stand at that altar and say those words, 'Hoc est Corpus meum,' that 'This is My Body' and This is My Blood, and to celebrate that Mass, that Holy Sacrifice of the Mass," he said.
Sandra Lee Fernandez, 32, a parishioner of St. Mary's in Norwich, Connecticut, said she has felt a calling to religious life since age 13 to join the Oblate Sisters of Divine Love based in Costa Rica.
"A lot of things in my life have changed. At one point I didn't want to do it again, and then now I feel the calling again. During adoration last night I really felt the call of work with me, bring my people to me," she said.