At CYO Rainbow XXXVIII, nearly 600 ninth through 12th graders congregated for two days of reflection, talks and community

DETROIT⁠ — Being a teenager in 2020 is challenging.

In a culture of constant connection, in which social media is king yet relativism is the norm, teenagers are called to make decisions in a split second, quickly determining right from wrong. This can often be difficult when teens feel that faith sends one message, but the world sends another. 

However, at the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Rainbow Conference, held Feb. 15-16 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, teens were able to gather from different churches and backgrounds for a weekend of shared faith, reflection, talks and community.

Teenagers attend the conference with their youth groups. Each youth group creates its own rainbow banner. The conference's name derives from Genesis 9:15-17, in which God promises Noah a new beginning, using a rainbow as a symbol of his promise. (Detroit Catholic | Valaurian Waller)


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The 38th annual Rainbow conference derives its name from Genesis 9:15-17, in which God promises Noah a new beginning, using a rainbow as a symbol of his promise. At CYO Rainbow XXXVIII, nearly 600 ninth through 12th graders took that promise to heart.

High school students from across the Archdiocese of Detroit gathered to hear talks by speakers Joe Melendrez and Katie Prejean McGrady, attend Mass with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and dance while colorful lighting strobed the room as Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5” blasted on the speakers. 

Teens also had a chance for spiritual reflection and confession, said Margie Howell, director of youth leadership development for CYO, and participate in service projects such as making fleece scarves for the Family Alliance for Change or St. Patrick’s Day cards for patients at the local Veterans Hospital. 

The hands-on event takes an entire year to plan and is organized by a special youth council. 

Teens pose for a photo with Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, who celebrated Mass on Saturday night at the Marriott at the Detroit Renaissance Center. (James Silvestri | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Emily Gaedcke, Rainbow coordinator and chairperson and a high school senior who attends St. Mary Queen of Creation Parish in New Baltimore, began attending the conference as a freshman and followed in her older brothers’ footsteps when she joined the youth council as a junior. She said being a part of the leadership team has taught her crucial time management and organizational skills. 

“I’ve learned a lot about trust; how to trust the process and trust that God is going to be there,” Gaedcke said. Part of this, she said, is trusting that God guides what teens need to experience during the weekend conference in order to grow.

McGrady’s talk, based on temptation, invited the students to not just say no to sin but to say yes to something greater — namely, Christ. 

“Every time you choose not to stumble and fall and choose to walk firmly in the path of Jesus Christ, you are essentially saying, ‘I believe in you more than I believe in myself,’” said McGrady, author of the book “Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus.” 

Emily Gaedcke, left, Rainbow conference coordinator and chairperson of the youth council, said planning the conference has taught her how to trust that God has a plan for the event and for each person attending the event. (James Silvestri | Special to Detroit Catholic)


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The youth council comprised nearly 20 teens who met during weekends throughout the year to plan the conference. With the guidance of adult supervisors, they also make sure the event runs smoothly and lead many of the activities. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic) 

“We live in a world that tells us that you don’t have to believe in anything except the thing that the culture wants us to believe,” McGrady said. “Every 'no' that you give isn’t just a negative to something bad — it’s you affirming goodness in your life and you committing to being a stalwart in your understanding and living in the good, the true and the beautiful.”

“It’s really hard to live the Christian life, but it is also really, really rewarding,” McGrady added.

Ultimately, the weekend gives the teens an opportunity to glimpse the faith of their peers, Howell said, and it makes them feel stronger in their faith as a result. 

The pinnacle of the event are the talks given by keynote speakers, a feature of each year’s conference. This year's keynote speakers were Joe Melendez (pictured above) and Katie Prejean McGrady. (Detroit Catholic | Valaurian Waller)


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Zoe Cooney attended Rainbow with her youth group from St. Anne Parish in Ortonville. She told Detroit Catholic she grew up Methodist, but after attending youth group decided to become Catholic. 

“I really liked the environment; I liked the Mass there and how structured it was,” said Cooney, a high school senior. “At the Methodist church we just listen, but in the Catholic Church we are more involved with everything we do.”

Ian Burke, also with the St. Anne youth group, said he is grateful for the opportunity Rainbow provides to be able to talk about his faith openly with his peers.

“I think more people should come to this because I know a lot of people who would love this,” said Burke, a junior. “You don’t even have to be a part of the (Catholic) faith to come here, but if you do come maybe your faith will start here.”

Photos Courtesy of Valaurian Waller and James Silvestri