ST. LOUIS—Teaching teens about sin and forgiveness was the order of the day when keynote speaker Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray spoke to some 23,000 youths at the 1999 National Catholic Youth Conference in St. Louis.

Held every two years, the conference attracted one of the largest crowds since the gathering began in 1951.

The Nov. 18-21 conference was sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and was hosted by the Office of Youth Ministry of the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Archbishop Justin Rigali welcomed participants at the opening session, and was the main celebrant among eight other bishops and 100 priests at the closing Mass.

In addition, some 30 bishops were on hand to participate in activities, including a youth congress on Scripture, which gave several hundred teens the opportunity to tell the prelates what they need to help them better understand Scripture and apply it to their daily lives.

“We are mindful that we are not always what we want to be or what we should be,” said Father Murray, a teacher of homiletics and the director of the Office for Pastoral Liturgy of the Cleveland Diocese.

“And yet we stand in the presence of a God who is slow to anger and rich in mercy,” he said.

Jesus was asked by Peter, “How often must I forgive my brother or sister when he or she wrongs me? As often as seven times?” and Jesus answered, “70 times seven,” the priest noted.

Father Murray said there is hope for sinners through reconciliation.

He encouraged all attending the conference to not let the day pass without receiving the sacrament of reconciliation from one of some 200 priests who were on hand to hear confessions.

“Christ Jesus does indeed come among us to fix us,” he said. “As my grandmother used to say, ‘There is a doctor in the house.”’

Other highlights at the national gathering included:

— Emcee Jesse Manibusan, a pastoral musician from California who has performed nationally at retreats, rallies and conventions, including World Youth Day.

— Steve Angrisano, a nationally recognized musician and youth speaker, who also served as a master of ceremonies at the papal youth rally during Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis.

— A social hangout for teens set up at Gateway Park, which measured more than three football fields in area and had games, music and faith-related activities.

— The New Millennium Eve Party, a collage of skits, musicians and dancing.

“There were glowing remarks” about the conference, said Father Robert Smoot, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese.

“You can't go wrong when you have so many young people gathered in the name of Jesus Christ,” he told the St. Louis Review archdiocesan newspaper.

The event “really revolved around prayer,” he added, which he said was an indication “that these young people have a deep faith.”

They enjoyed having fun and sightseeing, too, the priest said, “but they're here to go deeper in their faith and their friendship with Christ.”

This year's conference theme was “gateway@st.louis.ncyc99.” Each day had a particular theme, with accompanying workshops and liturgy. Themes included “Jesus Is the Gateway,” “We Are Here in Community,” “What Do We Offer?” and “Where Are We Going?”

The events were held at the Cervantes Convention Center and Trans World Dome at the America's Center in downtown St. Louis. Each evening concluded with a night prayer.