Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian
There were three lines — one for Starbucks in the downtown Marriot, two for the sacrament of confession — one for high school students in the Marriot; one for college students in the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
Members of both groups were in the Starbucks line; members of each group, respectively, occupied one of the confession lines.
The shortest of the three lines was for Starbucks.
To some — including Starbucks — that might have been a surprise. But on the weekend of Feb. 9-11, when the Diocesan Youth Conference, with more than 1,400 participants, and the Summit, with 750 college-age adults, were the dominant populations in both facilities, the sacrament was a higher priority than coffee.
Even with 50 priests hearing confessions, the lines were long, but one did not hear complaints or see people tiring of the wait. Rather, the penitents stood patiently, more than a half hour for the Summit participants, waiting to receive the sacrament.
For DYC and Summit participants confession wasn’t an anomaly, for the weekend of spiritual nourishment was filled with opportunities for them to examine their lives as Catholics, to celebrate Mass, spend time in Eucharistic adoration, contribute time to packaging meals for Rise Against Hunger, and to hear multiple talks with a spiritual thread — from Grace Parke, a former college field hockey player drawing upon the words of St. Paul in a talk titled “Run so as to Win,” to Christina Kieser reflecting on the words “thy will be done” in a presentation titled, “The Best One Liner of All Times.”
Participants who immersed themselves in those faith-fortifying presentations and prayer experiences found themselves reflecting on where and how they experience God in their lives.
Mary Beth Van Cleve, a sophomore majoring in education at UVa-Wise, not only experiences God in church, but in her work as a counselor at a summer Bible camp.
“I try to live my life as Jesus did,” she said. “Jesus loved everyone and I try to show my love as Jesus showed his love.”
Peter Valadez, a freshman biology major at UVa-Wise, finds the presence of God “in everyday life.”
“I experience God in prayer and meditation,” he said.
Two members of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Newport News, and 10th graders at Peninsula Catholic, see God’s presence in similar ways.
“Through my friends and family, and through acts of kindness and good works,” Jordan Anderson said.
Sarah Beavers, who also listed family and friends as people through whom she experiences God, added, “I go to a Catholic school. It’s hard not to experience God.”
Their classmate and fellow parishioner, Ana Mummert, said, “I experience God in my struggles. I know he is there with me.”
Havana Grau, a 10th grader at Warwick High School, and a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, noted a similar experience.
“There is a voice when I am trying to make a decision; God is there to guide my way,” she said. “He is there with me.”
Our Lady of Mount Carmel School eighth grader, Michael Nguyen, said the “love of God” is noticeable in the people around him.
“They’re happy; they care about each other,” he said, adding he experiences God in the Mass and Eucharist, calling it “beautiful.”
At the opening session of the Summit, Friday night at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Glen Allen, Bishop Barry C. Knestout answered questions submitted by participants, including, “What is the most important characteristic of a student leader?”
“It is tied to the Paschal Mystery; Jesus shows us what a leader can be,” he said. “We should be willing to give up ourselves for the other.”
Asked about his call to the priesthood, the bishop noted the environment — a “beautiful surrounding,” he termed it — in which he was raised, and the energy and enthusiasm his late father, a permanent deacon, had for the faith.
Bishop Knestout also recalled that after attending a retreat in college, he felt the “strong conviction to answer the call” to priesthood.
“It was unshakable; I had to follow it,” he said.