Annual conference sponsored by Catholic Youth Organization a chance for teens to learn, grow in faith and have a great time

DETROIT — Sometimes, you’ve just got to sing.

Between the pressures of the world and the burdens of school, peer relationships and looming college choices, it’s important for teenagers to take a moment to pause, breathe, and remember that God is in control.

And belt out some tunes.

ValLimar Jansen, a recording artist, catechetical leader and youth motivational speaker, led the way for hundreds of high school students from across the Archdiocese of Detroit during the 37th annual Rainbow Conference Feb. 16-17 at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.

The two-day, youth-led and organized retreat, sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization, is a chance for young people from across southeast Michigan to be fearless in their pursuit of holiness, Jansen told the teens during her keynote presentation Saturday night.

“Come and go with me to that land! We’re unbound!” Jansen sang at the top of her lungs in the ballroom of the downtown Detroit skyscraper, as teens from youth groups across the archdiocese jumped around and joined in the jubilant celebration.

ValLimar Jansen gestures toward the audience as she challenged young people to get up and move about the room, getting to know their peers and introducing themselves as "resurrection people." (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Jansen’s high-energy presentation — part motivational pep talk, part sing-along — was part of an overnight experience that included Mass with Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, adoration and confession opportunities, service projects, talks from youth leaders and an all-conference dance.

Jansen encouraged the teens to step outside their comfort zone to meet their peers and introduce themselves as “resurrection people.”

“Don’t do what I call a ‘drive-by peace-ing,’” Jansen said. “Oh, you know. You’ve seen it. It’s where you go ‘peacebewithyou, peacebewithyou, peacebewithyou’ really fast. This is not a true sign of Christ’s peace.

“We need to be the eyes and the hands of Christ for each other,” Jansen challenged the young people. “There’s a moment of exchange where there’s eye contact. So many people in this world believe that God does not see them. Let them see God through the warmth of your eyes, and the warmth of your hands.”

Jansen interspersed her presentation with Scripture reflections, putting on a one-woman skit in which she played the “nosy neighbor” who heard about Jesus’ healing of the man born blind.

Jansen’s character was thrilled to have heard and spread the gossip about Jesus, but when it came time to testify to the temple priests about what she knew, she grew silent and afraid.

“How many people here believe Jesus is the messiah?” Jansen asked the crowd, still in character. “Ooh, you’d better put your hands down. You don’t want to be expelled from the synagogue!”

Stepping out of character for a moment, Jansen’s tone grew serious.

“I don’t want to be persecuted, ridiculed, marginalized for my beliefs,” Jansen said. “But I do believe that I must live those things that I am taught in my faith. And one of those things is to open my eyes to see Jesus in the face of a stranger.”

A young man kneels in prayer during Mass at the Rainbow XXXVII conference in the main ballroom of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Zach Andrew, a teen from St. Colette Parish in Livonia attending his second Rainbow conference, said he appreciated Jansen’s energetic presentation.

“She is amazing. I love all of her sass and her energy,” Andrew said. “I really liked Jesse Manibusan’s talk from last year, but (Jansen) was also a really funny and fun person.”

Andrew said he also liked the various activities offered for teens, including a lip-synch battle with his peers, which he said was “a ton of fun.”

Jacqueline Beller was attending her first Rainbow conference along with her friends Jackie Voit and Mia Sornig from the youth group at St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Rochester Hills.

“My favorite part about Rainbow is that it makes going to church fun. All of the music and everything makes this really enjoyable,” Beller said.

Colleen Thomson and AnnaLyssia Abela helped organize the Rainbow conference as members of the CYO Youth Council, which chooses the theme — “Strengthen the Vine” this year — and organizes the various elements of the retreat.

Abela said the two girls’ parish, Sacred Heart in Dearborn, doesn’t usually have many youth representatives at Rainbow, which is why she became motivated to join Youth Council to help plan this year’s conference.

“It’s great to see such a large congregation of young people coming together to celebrate our Catholic faith,” said Abela, who served as chairperson, spirituality coordinator and membership recruitment representative for the council. “We know a lot of them are only going to celebrate their faith this weekend, but if we can use this conference to help one or two of those individuals continue learning and growing in their faith and strengthening their faith in their daily life, that’s what this conference is all about.”

Fr. Stephen Pullis offers a blessing to a young man during Mass at the Rainbow XXXVII conference on Feb. 16. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Thomson, who was attending her third Rainbow — and second as a member of the Youth Council — added it was special to see the students’ hard work result in a spiritually enriching experience for their fellow students.

“It’s really cool when you can do all this work and then see it turn into something tangible out on the stage, and seeing participants’ reaction when there’s a really good or moving prayer,” Thomson said. “When we can see that people are actually touched by it, that’s the most rewarding part.”

The Youth Council also organized a charity drive to benefit the Michigan Humane Society and Covenant House Michigan, which provides help for homeless teenagers. The upperclassmen were assigned to bring items for the Humane Society, and the lowerclassmen brought items for Covenant House. In a friendly contest between the two, the lowerclassmen prevailed by bringing more items.

“It’s a nice way to give back,” Thomson said. “This year the lowerclassmen won with donations to Covenant House, so it was pretty cool when everyone was going wild when we announced it earlier.”

During Mass with Archbishop Vigneron at the Renaissance Center, the students listened intently as the archbishop reflected on the readings of the weekend.

Noting the number of high school seniors in the room, the archbishop pointed out the choices that lay ahead of them in the years to come. While choosing a college or career is a big step, it’s not the most important choice facing the students, he said.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron gestures as his challenges young people to think about the choices they'll make in life, most importantly the decision to follow Jesus Christ. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

“In the Gospel, the Lord articulates this clearly,” Archbishop Vigneron told the youths. “It’s not a choice about whether to go to Michigan State or Central or some other school, but a choice about being blessed and happy or, as Jesus puts it, to experience woe and misery. It’s not a choice about what to do next year or how the next decade will go, but a choice about one’s eternal destiny. This is what he lays in front of us tonight.”

It is only by carrying one’s cross and imitating Jesus’ self-sacrificial love that ultimately leads to true happiness, he said.

Speaking to Detroit Catholic after her presentation, Jansen expressed confidence that the teens attending Rainbow would make the right choices.

“These young people are not the future of the Church; they are the ‘now’ of the Church,” Jansen said. “They are already coming to conferences like this. They are already in the pews.

“These are our future deacons, future DREs and future formation directors, ministers of hospitality and lectors. They’re right here,” Jansen continued. “They have a heart for God and a heart to know Jesus more and to have a deeper relationship with God, or they wouldn’t be here this weekend.

“You could spend your weekend doing something different than this if you’re a teenager. The things that are hard that we’re facing as a Church, they are the answer. They will live the answer.”


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