Photo by Bennie Bates on Unsplash

Guess who was gunning back to Saskatoon?

  • January 6, 2023

Where can you find fervent, engaged Catholic youth these days? Why, in Saskatoon, of course! 

This past October, I headed out dans ma voiture (and yes, I got stopped by cops) to the “land of living skies” (Saskatchewan license plate slogan) for Face to Face Ministries’ This annual event draws hundreds of high school-aged teens — mostly from the mighty Prairie provinces — for a weekend of top-notch praise and worship music, catechesis, adoration, testimonies, fellowship and fun.

It was a three-day car trip for me. As soon as I crossed over the border into Saskatchewan (in the middle of the night), I got pulled over by a police officer for — you guessed it — gas pedal enthusiasm.

Cop: “Where are you headed in such a hurry, Sister?”
Me: “I’m so sorry, Officer! I was listening to some upbeat country music, and you know how it is: you end up driving as fast as the—“
Cop: “Where are you going?”
Me: “I’m a speaker at a youth conference in Saskatoon.”
Cop: “Oh, don’t let me hold you up, then! Can I see your license?”
He took my license and saw “Dufferin St.” in Toronto. “I used to live right down the street from you!” He became even friendlier. “Now Sister, you’ve really got to slow down because we have huge animals here: moose, elk, deer.” (The teens in Saskatoon later told me: “You hit a deer? You live. You hit an elk? You might live. You hit a moose? You die.”) 

I took the officer’s advice. However, he failed to tell me to look out for the smaller animals that I nearly smoked: a coyote, a skunk and a raccoon. I drove on furtively scanning the sides of the highway for beady little eyes glowing in my high beams — before the beasts made a run for it.

When I was only 30 minutes away from Saskatoon… I ran out of gas. What did I do? I did what any damsel in distress worth her salt would do: I called 911. Once that further obnoxious delay was resolved, I arrived at Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon. 

This cavernous, ultra-modern structure was perfect for the conference. The sun-drenched foyer wrapped around the outside of the completely enclosed church and connected with a cafeteria. An enclosed auditorium had separate accommodating spaces for each activity — without interrupting the cathedral’s normal weekend schedule. Good thing, too, because as with any youthful gathering, the joyful decibels can be ear-splitting.

My presentations were on “Theology of the Body: The Masculine Genius and Feminine Genius.” Face to Face Ministries incorporates music, talks, prayer, action points. This is the first conference I’ve ever been at where all the youth took out journals to take notes! When the emcees (hilarious young adult guys) went around the auditorium after each talk to ask what struck them the most — the answers were truly profound. 

Parents who wanted to attend had their own parent track. F2F alumni — now young families with multiple munchkins and burgeoning broods — were volunteers. 

When it came time for Confessions, the line wound around the building and kept replenishing itself. The priest-confessors were there for hours. The beautiful time of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was punctuated with vocal prayer and a local choir’s acappella sacred polyphony. It was so moving to watch the young people praying on their knees trying to inch physically closer and closer to the monstrance.

Although even the clergy were mourning the Roughriders’ rough year, there is much to be celebrated in Saskatchewan and the ’toon. (I don’t know if the locals call it that, but I do.) CCO (Catholic Christian Outreach), a very successful, Canada-wide, university campus ministry, began in Saskatoon. F2F Ministries began in Saskatoon. Saskatoon has its own berries called… wait for it…”Saskatoon berries.” Ninety per cent of the world’s curling players live in Canada, most of them in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan is the sunniest province. But most of all, we can rejoice that there are these bands of Catholic youth who love the Lord and are striving for holiness; all because some slightly older youth can’t be silent or contain themselves about the faith, hope and love they’ve found in Jesus Christ.

(Sr. Helena Raphael Burns, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA.  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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