“Hail Mary, full of grace…,” so went my prayer as I walked up and down the rows and aisles of the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, sprinkling holy water and salt along with each seat. As a member of the Prayer Team for Steubenville East, I helped to bless and prepare the space for the 2300+ high school students who would soon arrive and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that they would receive.
Steubenville East is one of six Steubenville Conferences that are hosted by Life Teen each summer. Through engaging talks, opportunities for prayer and Reconciliation and powerful liturgies, high school students encounter God and are inspired to live out their Catholic faith in their homes, schools, churches, and communities.
I never attended a Steubenville Conference as a high school student—I had only heard great things about the conference. Last year, I was invited to be a part of the Prayer Team, one of the volunteer ministries available. My high school youth minister, Paola Peña, was the Prayer Team Lead, and Father Sam Kachuba, the pastor at my parish (St. Pius X) was the chaplain for the Prayer Team. I accepted the invitation, not knowing what to expect and came away from the weekend having had a very powerful, spiritual experience that inspired me to volunteer again this year.
The main role of the Prayer Team is to intercede for the conference participants throughout the weekend. Each of us are assigned to a particular section of the arena and we pray for the teens that are entrusted to us there. Specifically, we pray for an openness of hearts, that the Word of God might penetrate and illuminate parts of their lives that need healing and peace. We also have the opportunity to pray with and for the teens during Adoration, which takes place on the last night of the conference. For some teens, this may be their first time experiencing Adoration. Whether a newcomer or a veteran, the hope is that the teens are awakened and have an intimate encounter with Jesus, who is truly present in the Eucharist. What makes Adoration at Steubenville so unique and powerful is that the priest (at this conference, it was Father John Burns) processes with the monstrance through each section. This allows the teens to see Jesus face-to-face, literally. As the priest began to process through my section, tears filled my eyes as I watched my teens respond with joy, awe and reverence as they met Jesus.
Another way in which the Prayer Team serves is through Reconciliation. An area for priests to hear Confessions is set up along the back of the concourse and a temporary chapel is located nearby. Our job is to station ourselves at various points to assist with the flow of teens going to Confession and also to minister to the teens who are in line. Some of the teens are nervous or scared to go. One of the teens to whom I talked hadn’t been to Confession since her first Confession. Regardless of the scenario, I reassured them that they would feel so much better after they went, like a weight being lifted off of their shoulders.
Prayer Team members standing near the exit clapped and cheered for the teens who had just received the sacrament. We invited each person to take a piece of chalk and put a tally mark on a poster to keep track of how many Confessions had been heard. It was truly amazing to see the peace and joy that radiated from the faces of teens who said they felt “much better” and “relieved.” Over 30 priests committed to hearing Confessions for multiple hours and by the end of the conference, we hit the mark of 1300 Confessions being heard. This was a beautiful milestone, from the dedication of so many priests who were instruments of God’s mercy to the number of souls that were washed clean and freed from the burden of sin. Our prayers were answered!