by gary-foote on July 25, 2011

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a part of an incredible Catholic youth conference that was held in Tucson, Arizona called “Steubenville West.” I’ve been involved with the Steubenville conferences since 1999 and have had the opportunity to participate in various roles at the conferences in different locations throughout the US. The conference consists of talks from prominent Catholic youth speakers, worship, Adoration, and Mass. I wish that words could adequately describe all that takes place, but they just can’t. God often works powerfully in the lives of the Catholic high school youth that are present at these conferences. If you haven’t had an opportunity to be a part of a Steubenville youth conference check out and get plugged in!


The theme for this year’s conference was, “Rooted,” based on Colossians 2:6-7,“As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” This was one of my more favorite themes over the years because the word “Rooted” instilled in me a great visual. I was excited to be a part of the conference and see what God was going to do. However, like often times happens, I had no idea how God was going to work. Although I have consistently been involved with the Steubenville youth conferences, I haven’t done anything directly with the Steubenville West conference since 2005. It was great to head back to the University of Arizona where I first experienced a Steubenville youth conference in 1999.


On Friday afternoon, I was walking with another youth minister when all of a sudden I heard someone yell my name, “Gary!” I turned around and was surprised to see a former teen of mine helping someone in a wheelchair. She ran over and gave me a huge hug. It was a great moment. This grown woman was standing in front of me who I hadn’t seen in years. I started having flash backs to the first time I met her when she was dropped off as a Confirmation prep student at the parish I was working for in the Diocese of Phoenix. Back then she was a mess but a devout mess. This poor little girl faced more family struggles than any person should ever have to deal with. I remember countless phone calls, prayer sessions, and professional interventions to help this young girl and now here she was a chaperone for the parish that I used to work for. We talked a few times throughout the conference, and she shared with me that she had just graduated from college with a degree in psychology and was going to study theology so that someday she could devote herself to youth ministry. She thanked me for all that I had done in the past to help deepen her relationship with God and the Church. I was very grateful for her kind words. I’ve never been involved with Catholic youth ministry to be praised, but it is pretty nice when you can see how God has worked in the life of someone over many years.


Later Friday night a security guard stopped me. I was thinking to myself, “What did I do this time?” and “I hope no one sees me getting busted.” Well, it turns out I wasn’t in trouble. The security guard took off his hat, sunglasses, and radio, and I almost fell to the ground. Standing before me was another former teen who was all grown up. Now, I have to be honest. This guy was the teen that you would always want to send to your neighboring parish because he was such a pain and yet he would continue to come back week after week. I remember having to ask this teen to step outside with me on several occasions to tell him that I loved him with the love of Christ but that his attitude needed to change and then he would mouth off to me. I even talked to his parents once, and his dad mouthed off to me. At that point, I knew why this young man needed as much help growing closer to God that I could offer. Anyway, here we were face to face, and he shared with me that he’s been working security at the conference for years as a volunteer because it changed his life. He introduced me to the other security guards around as “his youth minister” and had a huge smile on his face. I was so happy to see him there (and was excited that I wasn’t in trouble with the law).


Saturday morning I was sitting at breakfast and low and behold another former teen was sitting right across from me. I didn’t have much time so I said hello, gave her a hug, and was off to my session. Later during the day though, I ran into her again. This time we had an opportunity to talk for a while. She shared with me that when she went off to college, her family went through some real challenges that caused her to stop practicing her faith. As life went on, she realized that she wasn’t happy and remembered the peace she had in her high school days when she was involved with faith. She started going to Mass again and has been going deeper in faith over the last two years as she volunteers at the parish that I used to work at. We prayed together, hugged, and went on our ways.


The last surprise “blast from the past” was another former teen that was at the conference. He is now the youth minister for one of the most dynamic youth ministry parishes in the nation.


I travel enough that it is not uncommon for me to run into people that I’ve had the privilege to minister to or with in the past. But running into these 4 amazing adults in a 72 hour time frame was amazing. Why was it that all of these adults (who were in the youth ministry program I ran at the same time) were still committed to their faith when so many young adults flee from the Church? The answer is: they were rooted in Christ. They knew that their faith was the most important thing in life and fully embraced it. I had the honor to work with an amazing team of young adult volunteers who were rooted in Christ so we all worked together to minister to these teens and try our best to be transparent so that it wasn’t any of us that they saw but Christ. We prayed intentionally and intensely. We went to Adoration and Mass together. We had Bible studies and learned about the lives of the Saints. We walked through the neighborhood by the parish and prayed the rosary while we walked. We went to conferences, retreats, and seminars. Most importantly, we authentically loved Jesus and His Church. If you were to ask any of these four young adults what they remembered most about their experience in youth ministry I can guarantee you that they would say something to the effect of, “that’s where I met and fell in love with Jesus.” We did a lot of fun things like going to amusement parks, renting inflatable obstacle courses, going to the movies, and playing video games in the youth room. But, that was never the focus of what we did.

So why do I share this? Unfortunately, I’ve had many people over the years ask me if teens would be “scared away” by teaching the bible and doctrines of our Church. I even had someone tell me once that I shouldn’t teach the teens about sin because they couldn’t understand it and that youth ministry should just be a welcoming place for teens to come at the parish. In my opinion, it’s these same people that wonder where all of the young adults are in the Catholic Church. I’m writing to say have fun in youth ministry, but don’t forget the reason why we are in ministry: to help young people grow in their relationship with God and His Church. When teens are rooted, they can blossom into faithful adults. Don’t give your youth “Wonder Bread” when they deserve the “Bread of Life,” the Eucharist. If you need help transitioning to a more deeply rooted youth ministry, start praying and seeking the help of a mentor. The Church needs more rooted adults. Let’s start creating them by helping our youth get firmly rooted in Christ.


God Bless you,

Gary Foote



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