More than 1,700 Catholic youth gathered with Archbishop John Nienstedt in Minneapolis on Sept. 15 for the first St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocesan Youth Day (AYD), which is modeled after the Church’s global World Youth Day. The sheer number of students who responded to the invitation was a "Reason for Hope," the theme of the day, and all became fondly known as the archbishop’s "peeps."
"Those Catholic youth convinced me without a doubt that devotion to the person of Jesus is very much alive and active in their lives," said Archbishop John Nienstedt. "The reverential looks on the faces of our youth as the Blessed Sacrament was held before them was deeply moving."
In addition to adoration, the event included talks, confession and music by Sonar, a Catholic band from the Twin Cities.
"When the archbishop arrived in his car, the kids were cheering for him. They really accepted him as their teacher, friend and shepherd," said Jean Stopelstad, archdiocesan director of marriage, family and life, who helped organize AYD.
AYD’s theme was a celebration of faith centered on the passage from 1 Peter 3:15: "Be ready at all times to give an explanation for the hope that is in you."
Youth ministers from around the Twin Cities gave talks in breakout sessions addressing the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, authentic love and vocation as a gift from God.
Father Michael Schmitz, director of youth/young-adult ministry in the Diocese of Duluth, Minn., gave a keynote address challenging the youth to accept Jesus as their hope and purpose.
He also led them in adoration, which was a powerful experience for many, who knelt on bleachers and moved in closer as he walked by with the monstrance for a final blessing.
"I felt the Holy Spirit overshadowing all of us teenagers during adoration, and you could just feel the grace of the Lord working through our lives. It was fun, and God is awesome!" said Michael Gladitsch, 17, a member of St. Francis Xavier Church in Buffalo, Minn.
Twitter and text-messaging were part of the interactive features that engaged students more fully in the experience. They were able to text-message their questions to the archbishop during a question-and-answer session as well as "tweet" their experiences and comments through a Twitter feed. One tweet read: "Adoration made me tear up. He is with us." Another stated: "That was one of the most amazing experiences of my life."
"Personally, I thought it was incredibly cool that my excitement for my Catholic beliefs was encouraged to be communicated to the world through current technology," said Caitlin Wright, a senior who attends St. Michael’s Church in Prior Lake, Minn.
Wright was equally impressed with the archbishop’s personable responses about his likes, such as hockey, novels, movies and pop artist Taylor Swift — "my favorite singer," she said. "I also enjoyed how he addressed more difficult questions in current events, such as ‘gay marriage.’ His courage to approach more challenging topics and the considerate manner in which he responded to them was highly commendable."
Wright was among about 40 high-school youth who attended from St. Michael’s. Pat Millea, the parish’s youth-ministry director, led one of the workshops on vocations.
"I got really valuable, profound responses," he recalled. "They loved being at a youth-centered event where there were all kinds of powerful spiritual experiences. They were reminded that they’re part of a much larger Church."
The event was initiated by Archbishop Nienstedt, who is committed to the spiritual growth of youth in the archdiocese, in response to Pope John Paul II’s invitation at the first World Youth Day in Rome to hold diocesan-level youth days during the off years of the worldwide event. The Minneapolis event will be held again in September 2013 because there is not a large contingent of youth planning to attend World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro.
The impact of the first event remains evident in reflections like Wright’s: "I felt renewed and refreshed in my faith."
Barb Ernster writes from