“Would you like to go to Steubenville San Diego?”

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“Would you like to go to Steubenville San Diego?” by Jeny Aquino

I was a first year student in my Confirmation program when one night after youth group, my youth minister came up to me and asked me this question.  My initial response was: “Steubenville: what the heck is that?” Obviously, I asked this in my mind, but in all seriousness, I had no idea what the conference was.  As a Confirmation student, I questioned the conference’s necessity towards my Sacramental preparation because my parish already hosted a Confirmation retreat for us.  But given the opportunity, I still told my youth minister that I was willing to go.

When I attended Steubenville that year, I had no idea what to expect.  It was the summer after my first year in high school, and at that point in my life, my faith meant close to nothing to me.  I remember wondering how much of an impact a conference like this could really have on me and other teens attending.  To be honest, I only went to the conference because I just wanted to be out of my house and thought I could forget my problems for a weekend.  Little did I know that attending the conference that weekend would be one of the greatest experiences in my life.

Growing up in the faith, I was no stranger to theology and basic catechism concepts.  While I was aware that I didn’t know everything there was to know about the Church, I believed that there was nothing to really gain from attending the conference.

But much to my surprise, as the first day of the weekend began, it was as if I had entered into a completely different world.  I had never been to a conference that was so large and dynamic and I was overwhelmed by the first day alone.  I saw more Catholic youth than I had ever seen in one place and saw a type of prayer and worship that was unfamiliar to me.  As the weekend continued, I could feel a willingness to be open to the love of God growing in me.  I tried to fight that feeling the first day and for the beginning of the second day, but by evening, I could no longer keep myself from opening up my heart to God.  Soon, I found myself listening to the speakers on stage, smiling along with my fellow youth, and singing praises to God like I had never done before.

Until my experience at Steubenville, I always tried to push my emotions away whenever situations got rough in my life.  I would pretend there was nothing wrong, even if inside, I felt like my heart was breaking.  Being at the conference made me feel like I could be vulnerable and open without the fear of rejection or disappointment.

For the first time in my life, I let go of everything.  As I cried in my seat in the presence of the Eucharist, I felt as if I was crying in the arms of Christ.

As a teen, I had no idea that my first experience of attending Steubenville would be the turning point in my faith.  After that weekend, I formed a new relationship with Christ that continues to this very day.  While I had always known about God, I had never truly known Him.  I had never realized the depth of His love for me until I witnessed who He was at this conference.

After that weekend, I went on towards my second year of Confirmation preparation.  While the weekend of my first Steubenville had ended, the experience stayed within my heart and helped me to see the good of God in everything around me.  As the year went on, I found myself so much more passionate about my faith and eager to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Attending the conference showed me not only the importance of being open to the love of God, but also the importance of learning more about the faith to better myself as a Catholic and as a human being in this world.  When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I knew in my heart how precious it was.  I truly believe that attending Steubenville enabled me to become more spiritually ready and equipped to be fully initiated into the Catholic faith.

When I became a youth minister, I carried the experience of my first Steubenville conference with me.  This conference was the most pivotal moment in my faith life and I knew it had that life-changing potential for so many others who were desperately in need of God’s love in their lives.  While my parish’s Confirmation preparation program included a Confirmation retreat, I always encouraged teens in the program to attend the Steubenville conference in addition because it adds so much to their journey toward the sacrament of Confirmation.

The conference itself is so much more than a conference.  In a very profound way, Steubenville grants an incredible encounter experience for those attending for the first time and gives spiritual nourishment and renewal to any returning attendees.  Sometimes, our faith needs an extra push and Steubenville has been that for thousands of teens.  When I attended Steubenville, I was shown that I am not alone and am surrounded by countless brothers and sisters in Christ who are all desiring to grow closer to God with me.  I would never have understood the magnitude of this truth if I had not attended Steubenville San Diego.

I know it is through the grace of God that I was able to attend the conference where I truly encountered Christ for the first time.  Without that initial invitation by my youth minister, I cannot even imagine how different my life would be.  I pray that you will also have the opportunity to attend and take your teens to a Steubenville conference.  I can say with all my heart that Steubenville San Diego is worth it, because amazing things happen when we come together as one family in communion with our heavenly Father.  When we allow ourselves to be open to experiencing the grace of His presence, He will work wonders in our hearts and in our lives.

When I think back on that night when my youth minister asked me if I wanted to go to Steubenville, I feel so blessed and thankful that I was given the opportunity.

I had no idea then, that after that invitation, my life would be forever changed for the better, but I thank God every day that my answer was “Yes.”

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