Caitlin McKee shares her testimony at this year’s Steubenville Toronto youth conference at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa. Photo courtesy of Office of Catholic Youth

Youth continue mission at home after Steubenville

  • August 11, 2017

Last summer, Kyle Peralta felt God’s power moving within him during his time with Franciscan LEAD.

“To me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event that really captivated and changed my life as it did my best friend’s the year before,” said the 17-year-old Peralta.

The LEAD program is a five-day leadership opportunity for teens who are ready to step up to the next level in evangelization and discipleship. Standing for Leadership, Evangelization And Discipleship, the program is inspired by the life and witness of St. Francis of Assisi and is based on the foundation that youth leadership comes from having a personal relationship with Jesus.

The program takes place in preparation for Steubenville Toronto, the annual Catholic youth conference that brings together speakers and musicians from North America to help young people to encounter Christ in the Eucharist. The conference, held this year July 28-30, originated at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, where the conference has been held for 40 years.

Members of LEAD had a special leadership role at the conference: to be the welcoming voice and share their newfound knowledge and testimony with all they met.

Cassandra Fernandes, from St. Joseph’s Parish in Mississauga, was one of the LEAD youth who shared her story on stage. Her three-minute witness told how she plans to bring back what she learned during LEAD.

“I wanted to make faith appealing to my friends, and bring them to church, but I never succeeded,” said Fernandes. “Now I know, God has a plan for me and He has opened doors for me to lead prayer groups, children’s liturgy and retreats, allowing me to increase my acts of service and letting me share God’s love to those I encounter.”

LEAD is more than just doing good and being good. Fernandes said it’s about living every aspect of life authentically, to glorify God.

The program is designed to use personal encounters with the living Christ as the introduction to discipleship. In turn, the teens draw people into the faith by their daily lives.

Lisa Cabellero, one of the facilitators for the Toronto LEAD program, spoke of the importance of youth sharing their witness with their peers.

“It has to be authentic,” said Caballero. “They don’t need to use words but when people see how you live your life radiating the joy of Christ, they know it’s genuine and that leaves a lasting impression.”

Peralta said the program taught him the power of his testimony as a form of evangelization. And just as his best friend encouraged him to be a part of the program last year, he encouraged his friends to participate in this year’s program.

Many young people come to the LEAD program through a friend’s invitation. Every year, participants are given a bracelet for themselves plus an extra one to give to someone they think should take part the following year. That bracelet shows the person is praying for you.

Peralta invited two of his friends from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Brampton, Ont., to participate in this year’s program, Nikkita Couto and Dylan Thomas. Now Cuoto, 18, and 16-yearold Thomas have become junior leaders for the parish’s EDGE program. They hope that through their leadership, they can help bring younger students closer to Christ.

“If I am to be the hands and feet and voice of God, if I am to make disciples of all the nations, I have to lead by example, not words,” said Thomas.

At this year’s Steubenville Toronto, all youth present were told to “elevate” — to go beyond just the mountaintop experience, to continue the theme of proclaiming the Gospel to the world.

(Quadros, 17, is a Grade 11 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.)

Note: A previous version of this story had the wrong information in the photo caption.

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