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High School Youth Called to Place God Above All

1200 youth encouraged to embrace virtuous lives and resist allurements of the world

Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009

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STEUBENVILLE, OH—“God is going to do something powerful this weekend. I guarantee it,” said host Bob Lesnefsky, kicking off the first of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s 19 High School Youth Conferences this summer.

Lesnefsky, a popular Christian hip-hop artist known as “Righteous B” and the father of five, told the students that in 1991 he was once attending his first conference like many of them. The conference changed his life forever. He told the 1200 youth, who gathered on the University’s campus on June 12-14, that their conference had the same potential. He emphasized the conference theme “Above All” and urged them to place God before any anxieties or distractions throughout the next few days.

“What are you living for?” Lesnefsky challenged them. “Because nothing else is worth living for than Jesus Christ. He is life itself.” He asked them to make the most of their weekend by realigning their hearts to God. “Ask to get to know him,” said Lesnefsky, “take a risk on the God of the universe stepping into your world.”

Youth groups came from 20 different states and Canada, each teen wearing brightly colored T-shirts emblazoned with the conference theme, “Above All.”

Conference attendees heard inspiring talks, attended Mass and confession, and worshipped God in song and prayer. Students learned to remain close to the sacraments in order to keep God at the center of their lives.

“It’s amazing to see the youth respond to eucharistic adoration,” said Father Rick Martignetti, OFM, conference speaker and associate director of Franciscan’s Pre-Theologate Program. “We bring out the Eucharist and Jesus does the rest.”

Adoration was a highlight for many teenagers, including Benjamin Mouch, 15, from Toledo, Ohio. “It was definitely my favorite part of the weekend. I could feel the presence of God.”

On Saturday morning Shannon Dietz, director of young adult formation at St. Martha’s Church in Kingwood, Texas, spoke to the women’s session. She encouraged women to reject a deceptive culture that contaminates the gift of sexuality. “If you believe in God, you have to believe in the enemy,” she said, warning that the enemy was clever at depriving women of their self-dignity, self-respect, and self-worth. Dietz testified that only God can satisfy the heart’s desire for perfect love. “When I opened up to God, the world opened up to me,” she said.

Meanwhile, the male youth listened to speaker Matt Smith, director of Internet Ministries for LifeTeen. He challenged his audience to live chaste lives of heroic virtue.

“The world makes a lot of money selling you sex,” he said. “Our role as men is to protect women, not exploit them. You are entering a battle.” Smith provided practical ways to live out the virtue of purity and handed out chastity cards for the teens to sign. He advised them to find supportive friends of faith.

In his closing blessing Father Jim Crisman, director of priestly vocations in the Archdiocese of Denver told the men, “Chastity is not a negative message that robs us of our masculinity or divides us from women. It is a celebration of how we are made in God’s image.”

The youth attended workshops including “Making Godly Decisions,” “Living in Justice—Living Mercy,” “Mary and the Saints,” “Vocations: The Path to Holiness,” “The Mass: The Power and Presence of Christ,” and “Exposing Lies.”

“You exist to know God, love God, and serve God,” said Father Crisman, in his “Vocations: The Path to Holiness” workshop. Quoting Pope John Paul II he noted, “Love is the fundamental innate vocation of every human being,” and explained that by God’s transforming love, “You will become fully human and alive in Christ. Only then can you love as he loves, which is your immediate vocation.”

At the close of the conference on Sunday, two Franciscan alumni, Father Crisman and Sister Mary Rose Bratlien, TOR, assistant director of evangelization at the University, asked any young men and women who were considering a call to priestly or religious life to step forward. To sustained applause, dozens of youth left their seats to be prayed over at the foot of the altar.

Father Crisman said that although he never imagined himself as a priest, he now experiences peace and joy in his vocation. Sister Mary Rose recommended that the students pray, read Scripture, listen to homilies, frequent the sacraments, speak with a spiritual director, and visit religious communities to fully discern their vocation.

“The Lord knows your heart and wants to give you the desires of your heart,” she said.

In his “Exposing Lies” workshop, Matt Smith spoke about his experience on the MTV reality show, The Real World: New Orleans. “I went to daily Mass,” he said, addressing the tactics of a manipulative media, “but they didn’t show that. As Catholics, we cannot rely on the media to tell the truth. We have to be vigilant.”

Father Crisman closed the conference with Corpus Christi Sunday Mass, telling listeners that living out their love for Christ might become more difficult when they left such a young and passionate Catholic environment. Referencing the conference theme he said, “But God wants us to continue to put him ‘Above All,’ tomorrow, too.”

Youth ministers such as Scott Scrumb, from Sacred Heart Parish in Glenwood, Minnesota, are looking forward to the fruits of the conference.

“I think the students who came here this weekend are really going to take ownership of their experience and lead other students,” he said.

Other upcoming High School Youth Conferences will be held at the University on June 19-21, June 26-28, and July 10-12. Adult conferences will include the “St. John Bosco Conference” (July 22-26) for Catholic educators, and “Defending the Faith Conference” (July 31-Aug 2), which focuses on Catholic apologetics. For more information, including a complete list of conferences for adults and youth, go to

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