Worship leaders Ben Walther and Lisa Renee perform at Steubenville Toronto in 2019. Thousands of Canadian youth will have to wait until 2021 for the next conference. Photo by Julius Gracian Photography

Steubenville has to wait

By  Lawrence Fraginal, Youth Speak News Special
  • May 6, 2020

The first week of July was shaping up to be a big one in the life of Arnold Cordova — then along came the COVID-19 outbreak.

For the past six Julys, thousands of Canadian Catholic youth like Cordova have descended upon the Greater Toronto Area for the annual Steubenville conference to listen to renowned speakers and deepen their faith through a series of workshops, reflections, prayers and sacraments. A smaller group of teens attend the Franciscan LEAD retreat the week before the conference to attain the leadership and evangelization skills necessary to help share Christ’s mission of love and service.

Both events were cancelled this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was pretty shocked because it had to be the first year that I was going to LEAD, so I was definitely disappointed,” said  Cordova, a 17-year-old student at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ont. “My friends and sister told me that when they went, they had a wonderful experience in moments like adoration. I was touched, and that made me want to go and experience the same thing.”

Steubenville Toronto 2020 was slated for July 3-5 at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, and Franciscan LEAD was to be held at the Manresa Spiritual Renewal Centre in Pickering from June 30-July 3. Steubenville Atlantic in Halifax and its Franciscan LEAD retreat have also been cancelled.

Online resources are available to help youth enhance their personal growth and religious convictions, however, there is an uneasiness that youth engagement in ministry during this pandemic is taking a hit.

“There will definitely be some missed opportunities with youth,” said Joseph Fabie, the music ministry co-ordinator for the Franciscan LEAD retreat in 2019. “Youth ministry banks on its ability to develop relationships with young people. After all, the Church is built on our principal relationship of love in our Lord. The ones that you see really turn their lives around in their faith are those that feel this love through core team members, their friends, the Church and God present in their youth ministry. It’s difficult to think about because those opportunities were all just taken away.”

Nevertheless, Fabie is hoping youth remain optimistic.

“At the end of the day, the mission stays the same,” said Fabie. “On one side, there is sadness, but we still have hope. People are now finding time for things like silent prayer that they would not normally have had to grow in their intellectual formation. We are all being challenged to find ways to rejoice and continue remaining grateful in this Easter season.”

Cordova is also choosing to look at the days ahead through a hopeful lens.

“I talked to my friend, who was more distraught then I was, and I told him, ‘Look, we have solutions other than LEAD.’ It’s OK to be disappointed, but we can’t let that affect our life either.”

The Steubenville Conference and Franciscan LEAD retreat are scheduled to return in 2021 with the conference confirmed for July 9-11 at Ontario Tech University.

(Fraginal, 20, is a third-year criminology and sociolegal student at the University of Toronto.)

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