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Abide conference gives youth a “way” to grow in their faith

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Sixty-five young people gathered last week with youth ministers, priests, deacons, Children of Mary sisters, and 15 college assistants for a “full immersion” conference on what it means to be a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ. At the end of the gathering all 100 engaged on hands-on ministry in downtown Cincinnati.

The annual Abide conference, held at Mount St. Joseph University, includes discipleship talks, small group workshops, prayer, Mass, and music – along with fellowship and fun. Held and sponsored by the archdiocese, the five-day conference aims to give each participant an encounter with Christ, and experience in sharing that encounter with others.

Highlights include Mass with Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr and the two ministry experiences designed, organizers say, to show that while missionary discipleship can mean formal prayer and witness, it can also be as simple as talking and listening to people, and being with them in a spirit of sharing God’s love.

On a steamy Friday night the group headed to Cincinnati’s Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. Once nearly abandoned, the park is now a hub of activity for people of all ages and income levels. After several days of intensive prayer and workshops, it was easy for the young people to fan out and find people to talk, play, and even pray with. For several hours they jumped rope in the lawn, played with young children in the playground, and ran through the “sprayground” water jets with children and families.

The young people found the people they spoke with eager to play – and some, even in a crowded playground, eager to pray. The Saturday night experience, in contrast, was as much about prayer as welcoming people. Held at St. Louis Church in downtown Cincinnati, “Light the Night” opened the doors of the small urban church for evening Eucharistic adoration. Lit only by candles, the altar decorated with red and white cloth recalling the Divine Mercy vision of St. Faustina, the church was open to all for several hours. The young people and their adult companions stood by the open doors or ranged up and down the surrounding sidewalks, inviting people to come inside and see the church, to light a candle, and to pray if they wanted to.

Each year people of all faiths and no faith ask for prayers, light candles, and visit the church. Often, like this year, someone who has left the Catholic church comes in the door in tears. People prayed on the sidewalk, or kneeling together before the Blessed Sacrament. Light the Night offers teens a rare glimpse into the human heart and to the way God touches people, when they let Him, at the most unlikely times – a moment of communion in the heart of the city on a Saturday night.

Meant to be a life-changing and unforgettable experience to draw participants closer to Christ, Abide is also part of a larger formation program for both young people and youth ministers. The archdiocese’s varied youth programs have been combined into one, called “Via,” or “way.” As young people move through the connected programs on the “way,” they grow in their faith – and so do their ministers.

“Light the Night is one of my favorite things all year,” said Ryan Mahle. Though a recent addition to both the Archdiocese’s Marriage and Family Life and Religious Education staffs, he’s a longtime parish youth minister and speaker.

“Fifty percent of Abide participants have come before,” he said, “and they all have an immediate opportunity to volunteer as peer ministers at With, a music and prayer festival for younger teens on June 23 at Transfiguration Center in West Milton” (see our calendar for details). Youth ministry events and meetings continue throughout the year, and when students age out and attend college or begin work, they can volunteer at Abide.

As they grow together and with the youth ministers who accompany them, the young people who attend Abide and the related Via programs can become beacons to others, renewing their families, their parishes, and our world.

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