Even amid summer heat and a continuing COVID-19 pandemic, 96 Arkansas high school students still found reason to rejoice.
The Catholic teens traveled with the Diocese of Little Rock Youth Ministry Office to the Benedictine College Youth Conference Encounter, a student-run conference held June 18-20 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan.
“I was contacted by Benedictine, and they had some alumni who provided funding for an
outreach to mission diocese(s), which … (the Diocese of) Little Rock is,” said Liz Tingquist, director of the diocese’s Catholic Campus and Youth Ministry Office.
As a result, Arkansas students could attend for only $75 instead of the advertised
rate of $275.
While the conference shared much in common with other youth conferences like Steubenville — prayer, sacraments, Eucharistic adoration — Charlotte Self, youth director at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock, was quick to point out some interesting distinctions.
“It took place at Benedictine College, where they have an abbey on campus,” she said. “It was a unique experience for my (teenagers) to spend time going to Mass … and praying the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks and just getting these experiences that they’ve never had before.”
Three hundred students from several states attended, which was a smaller audience than the thousands expected at similar conferences.
“It was really just this opportunity to go to something that I don’t believe that any of these parishes have been to before that was more intimate, a bit more organic,” Tingquist said. “Our youth were exchanging cell phone numbers with kids from other states, and you don’t really get that from Steubenville.”
Rising senior Nitze Chable, 17, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, said she benefitted from hearing the conference’s guest speakers, including Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries, and Sister Mary Elizabeth Albers of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.
“When Sarah was talking about the women’s talk, that was my most favorite thing,” she said. “One of the things that I’m taking with me is (something that) she pointed out: It’s OK to be a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.”
Confession and Eucharistic adoration Saturday evening were the weekend’s highlights, attendees said. Rising senior Anna Luebbering, 17, a parishioner at St. Anne Church in Berryville, described adoration as “just so perfect.”
“Being there in the presence of God and knowing what is done and sacrificed for us … (is) peaceful, reassuring,” she said.
Chable said after going to confession, “I just really felt the urge to hug somebody, and I usually don’t do that. I just feel like there was, spiritually, somebody telling me to just do it.”
Luebbering said she is aware of the challenge of carrying that spirit into her everyday life.
“You have all these people who are … in the same faith community, but when you come home, (it’s) like … we’re going back into our little bubble,” she said. “I just wish I could go back already.”
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