By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
More than 200 young Catholics spent last week actively trying to strengthen their faith and respond to the call to follow Christ.
Thirty-four high school students representing 15 parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville took part in the annual Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) July 6 to 10 at the Flaget Center on Lewiston Drive.
Two hundred more youth from across the country, including the archdiocese, took part in the 11th annual Ignite Your Torch Youth Conference on the campus of St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky., July 9 to 12.
The week-long CLI retreat is designed to develop leadership skills based on Christian principles, said Karl Dolson, associate director of youth ministry in the archdiocese’s Office of Lifelong Formation and Education.
The retreat offers a series of workshops and team activities that gave participants the opportunity to learn leadership, communication, planning and group facilitation skills.
“The hope is that they will leave with practical application they can use in their parishes, youth ministry, sports clubs and even their jobs,” said Dolson.
Fifteen-year-old A.J. Hawes, who was attending CLI for the first time, knew exactly how he planned to use his newly acquired skills.
“I am a Boy Scout and I want to be leader of the troop,” said Hawes, a sophomore at Trinity High School. “I think I can use the skills learned here to help achieve that.”
Hawes added that the experience also made him feel closer to God. “I feel like I will pray much more and that it will mean more,” he said.
Courtney Wheeler said taking part in CLI taught her a lot about herself.
“I’ve learned what I am good at and what I struggle with,” she said. She added that she learned to listen to her gut feelings, which she believes is God’s voice. Wheeler, a junior at Sacred Heart Academy, said she will rely on this in the near future when she chooses which college to attend.
This year’s Ignite Your Torch conference focused on “Goodness, Truth and Beauty,” said Tamara Cesare, president of Catholics United for Life and coordinator of Ignite Your Torch.
“My hope is that the youth will understand that in order to find those things in their lives they have to meet and understand the one true God,” said Cesare.
The four-day conference presented opportunities for young people to worship, pray and attend more than two dozen workshops led by religious priests, brothers and sisters.
On the second day of the conference, participants heard from Father Timothy O’Connor about the love of Christ.
During his keynote address on “The Centrality of Christ,” Father O’Connor assured his young listeners that the love of Christ is different from any other love “because of the cross.”
“Jesus Christ knows you and knows why he invited you to attend this weekend,” said Father O’Connor.
He encouraged participants to draw closer to Christ at the conference Christ.
“This weekend, ask the Lord to come into your heart in a deeper way,” he said.
Seventeen-year-old Monica Dougherty, a member of St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley, Ky., attended the conference for the third time this year.
“Sometimes you can lose your faith, but coming back always makes me think of how close I can be and how close I want to be with God,” she said.
The best part of the conference, she said, is being surrounded by so many people who “want to live their lives for God.” “You don’t see that too much these days,” she added.
Berenice Rabadan, a 16-year-old, from South Carolina, said her conference experience was “peaceful.”
“I’ve enjoyed the night prayers, the music and the speakers,” she said. “The prayers will be the most helpful” to her after the conference is over.
On July 11 Ignite Your Torch conference participants visited Louisville where they attended a prayer service outside the E.M.W. Women’s Surgical Center on First and Market Streets and attended Mass at St. Louis Bertrand Church, 1104 S. 6th St.