Teen and youth ministers at the recent Steubenville NYC youth conference at St. John’s University in Queens found “Belong” to be an apt theme.
“Being Catholic is not this lonely thing,” said Christopher Rivera in Carnesecca Arena, where Cardinal Dolan celebrated Mass for the conference’s 1,800 participants on an altar above the floor where Red Storm basketball games are normally played.
“It’s something I can share with others and let them know that they belong here, too,” said Rivera, who serves as southern region coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
Steubenville NYC gave the 140 youths from the Archdiocese of New York the opportunity to “branch out” while safely connected to home, Rivera said. During the July 19-21 conference, they heard talks, attended workshops, prayed together, listened to music and met other Catholic teens from across the country.
Working with Rivera to organize the archdiocesan groups were Daniel Genn, assistant director of the Office of Youth Ministry, and youth ministers from nine parishes and other ministry groups from Manhattan and the Bronx to Orange and Dutchess counties.
Rivera, in the CNY interview, pulled out his phone to show notes he had taken during a conference talk delivered by Christopher Padgett, an author, teacher and motivational speaker. “Jesus says I love you because you belong to Me. You’re great because you’re a son or daughter of God.”
Cardinal Dolan, in his homily at the morning Mass July 20, took the teens on a catechetical journey centering on the “Belong” theme drawn from 1 John 3:1, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called children of God.”
“We bask in the fact that we belong to Jesus and His Church. It’s a package deal,” said the cardinal to the teens hailing from 11 states as far away as Alaska.
“This Church to which we belong is the family,” continued the cardinal in pronouncing God as the Father, Jesus as “our oldest brother” and Mary, His Mother, “as our Mother.”
Cardinal Dolan explained that Mary was “with the Church from Day 1.” He shared a timeline that began with the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus on Christmas, “probably the happiest moment in human history,” and continued through Pentecost.
At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry at the wedding at Cana, Mary told the waiters to “do whatever He tells you.” The Blessed Mother “will always tell us what’s important,” the cardinal said.
Bishop John Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre concelebrated the morning Mass, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn celebrated the conference’s closing Mass the next day.
Some 50,000 teens will attend 25 Steubenville regional conferences this summer, including five taking place at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Six conferences, including the New York one, were hosted with Life Teen, a Catholic youth ministry movement.
As the Archdiocese of New York teens assembled for a group photo after Mass, 16-year-old Jacob Tigar, a member of the youth ministry group from St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta parish in Newburgh, said Steubenville NYC offered a good opportunity to “make connections” with other like-minded teens as they prayed and learned together.
The cardinal’s remarks about the Church as a family resonated with Jacob, who said, “We’re all searching for identity…Society is becoming so distant. Everything is behind a screen.”
Ryan Dorsainvil, 15, from St. Augustine parish in New City, was attending his second Steubenville NYC with the parish’s youth ministry group. “There’s nothing like it—the music, the atmosphere,” said Ryan, who will be a sophomore at Clarkstown South High School in September.
“It’s tough to find that nowadays. It’s so abundant here.”