Fr. Christopher Martin carries the Holy Eucharist in the monstrance through the crowds during Saturday adoration at Steubenville Toronto. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Steubenville Toronto attracts youth near and far

By  Marie Gamboa, Youth Speak News
  • July 19, 2018

Holy Trinity Parish is definitely not in Kansas anymore. 

Mac Neal, youth leader of the parish, said the group of 83 youth and 16 chaperones travelled 1,600 kilometres from Lenexa, Kansas, to be a part of Canada’s largest youth conference, Steubenville Toronto, on July 13-15.

“We want to create an experience as a parish and also the experience of being with 1,200 people at a conference,” she said. “We discerned that the best opportunity for students and their faith was to come to Steubenville Toronto. The students are happy that it’s something that’s never been done before.”

Neal said they’ve attended many youth conferences within their own diocese, but very often found themselves the largest group in attendance. Being a small part of a large crowd is humbling and she said it gave the group a better sense of what it’s like to be part of a larger Church. 

Steubenville Toronto, celebrating its fifth year, took place at University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa. The Kansas youth group joined Canadians from across Ontario to celebrate this year’s theme, Revealed, based on 1 John 4:9, “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him.”

With a team of passionate speakers, an energetic band and a pumped up crowd of young Catholics, Fr. Frank Portelli, head of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth (OCY), couldn’t help but reflect on the ministry’s past five years.

“Every fall we get together with all the other hosts of Steubenville conferences at Franciscan University (in Steubenville, Ohio) and we all discuss ways in which we can grow, get better and support one another in putting on the best conferences possible,” he said. “Everybody has their local issues, but overall we are all doing the same thing, trying to evangelize our culture and to celebrate our faith. Our success is only in so far as we are attentive to God’s Spirit moving within us.”

The OCY tweaks the conference each year based on participant feedback from surveys, he said. 

“The overall mode of operation is to help the teens become open to receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. There’s nothing better than communion with our Lord,” Portelli said.

Though he agreed that Steubenville Toronto is like the “summit of the summer” and certainly impacts the spiritual lives of many young people, he also emphasized the importance of a parish’s commitment during the rest of the year. 

“The parish that commits to youth ministry helps to support events like Steubenville Toronto and other events that can be transformative: weekend retreats, praise and worship or adoration nights, weekly or bi-weekly youth ministry, a welcoming community to the young members of the Church, and so on.”

Aside from the conference, OCY offers youth the chance to take part in a leadership retreat called Franciscan LEAD in the week leading up to Steubenville. 

Taynaya Miranda, 17, explained how her Steubenville experience has changed in her past three years and how LEAD helped strengthen her faith.

“It’s the growing community that makes me more open to the idea of developing my relationship with God,” said Miranda. “LEAD encouraged me to go out and step out of my comfort zone. I have so much more confidence because of what I learned this week.”

Portelli sees only good things for Steubenville Toronto going forward. “What would make me ecstatic,” he said, “is if we had enough people attending to offer two weekends here in Toronto.”

(Gamboa, 18, is a graduated student from Markville Secondary School in Markham, Ont.)

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