Zy Miller leads the 2014 LEAD team in a cheer. Miller will be working as a NET Canada missionary this year. Photo courtesy of Office of Catholic Youth

LEADing youth to service

By  Rachel Gannon, Youth Speak News
  • September 18, 2015

It is not surprising that the youth who participate in Franciscan LEAD are taking the next steps in living out their vocation. These youth already have a deep faith and the LEAD program encourages them to continue to say yes to God’s call in their lives.

The Franciscan LEAD program, which is part of the annual Steubenville Conference, gives the participants a week, leading up to conference weekend, to live in community with other young Catholics. Prayer becomes central to their day and they are dependent upon those moments each day with God. It is a push in the discernment process to encourage participants to take these habits home with them.

“The beautiful aspect of the Catholic faith that LEAD promotes is that you are not alone,” said Craig Fernandes, who took part in the LEAD program in 2014. “The fellowship of the other participants and the leaders shows you that we don’t have to settle for the practices of the secular world, but instead gives you the strength and courage to go against the stream of the culture.”

Fernandes was discerning the priesthood after finishing high school when his vocations director encouraged him to take part in the LEAD program. Fernandes said that one of the most memorable moments in the program was when he was asked to give his testimony during the 2014 Steubenville Conference in Toronto. Fernandes said it was an empowering moment for him.

“I wasn’t only able to share my faith with all those in the auditorium, but also with my friends whom prior to that, I’ve never had the courage to speak openly about Jesus,” he said. “I learned that following God’s will is what will bring forth joy, so all I have to do is pray and wait for the Lord to reveal His will to me and ask for the strength to say yes.”

Fernandes has since entered formation at Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary to study for priesthood in the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The Franciscan LEAD week is packed with mini-theology lectures and several forms of prayer, including adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praise and worship, personal prayer and a large emphasis on sacred Scripture.

Participants frequently mention that the sacraments were where they heard God’s voice throughout the week. The group attends daily Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered over the course of the week, as well as at the conference.

Zy Miller, 19, also participated in the 2014 LEAD program. Miller recalls that it was a verse he discovered during LEAD week that called him to take a step towards saying yes to the NET Canada Missionary program.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Miller said that the LEAD program was one of the steps that led him to taking the jump into NET. After completing a year at Algonquin College and dealing with his sister’s cancer diagnosis, he finally decided that it was time to say yes.

“There were a couple of big moments in my discernment for NET but you take away all those little moments and I wouldn’t be where I was,” Miller explains in his decision to finally apply to NET.

Not only are Franciscan LEAD participants living out vocations as missionaries or seminarians, but many are called to continue living out their current vocations as students and young workers.

Tony DiDomenico, a Grade 10 student at St. Paul Catholic High School in Niagara Falls, Ont., attended Franciscan LEAD this summer after hearing about it from others who had attended.

“After the LEAD program, I feel more energized and excited to continue on with my faith,” said DiDomenico. “One month ago I was somewhat confused with God’s plan for me and I still continue to discern His will in my life but I feel more at ease, patient and peaceful seeking out His will for me.”

Each applicant to the LEAD program is selected based on pastoral references and a questionnaire about his or her spiritual journey. Applications can be found online when applying for the Steubenville Conference.

(Gannon, 19, is a second-year Catholic Studies student at King’s University College in London, Ont.)

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