By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
One week of their summer vacation took place at a monastery in Indiana, where nine youths from eastern Iowa immersed themselves in the liturgy, “the people’s work,” joined by Bishop Thomas Zinkula.
St. Mary Parish in Iowa City organized the group that attended the “One Bread, One Cup” (OBOC) conference at St. Meinrad Archabbey. Participants traveled in two vans, with Bishop Zinkula switching between vehicles to converse with the teenagers on this journey of faith.
The conference provided participants with opportunities in community building, leadership development, catechesis, liturgical and spiritual formation and theological reflection to encourage their participation in the life of their parishes. The agenda included fun activities — outdoor recreation, a variety show and a dance. The teens easily persuaded Bishop Zinkula to put on a goofy chicken hat for a photo.
Patti McTaggart, Youth/Music and Liturgy coordinator at St. Mary’s, organized the group. Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City, participated as a chaperone because he attended seminary at St. Meinrad. They have participated in OBOC many times and invited Bishop Zinkula to attend.
The bishop’s presence made an impact on the participants and the college interns who led the conference, Father Belger said. “What most people see of a bishop is a holy man who presides at Mass but disappears until the next weekend. He is human. Bishop Zinkula has a good way of being present and certainly not exalting himself but being with people and lifting them up.”
At OBOC, participants experience the depth and breadth of the celebration of liturgy — from the Liturgy of the Hours to spiritual reflection to the Mass, said Father Belger. “They see what it is to be part of the parish and to recognize that they play a crucial role in making the liturgy the life-giving experience it is meant to be.”
From year to year, McTaggart appreciates witnessing how young people experience OBOC differently. “Our common core is our love for our Catholic faith. It’s like an injection of goodness that gives me hope.”
Bishop Zinkula planned to participate in the 2020 conference, but the pandemic interfered. “I had heard a lot of good things about OBOC and liturgy is very important to me, so I was curious to see what the conference is all about.”
He left impressed. “The leaders obviously have been at this for a long time; the conference was well-planned and well-executed. A key component is well-grounded college ‘interns’ who had participated in OBOC when they were in high school and had stayed involved over the years. They worked most directly with the youth. There were many fun activities that lightened the mood,” the bishop said.
Sarah Martin, 19, is a graduate of Regina High School in Iowa City who will attend St. Mary College in South Bend, Indiana, this fall. She is grateful for her OBOC experience. “Being able to be fully present with the participants and interns made it easier to be present with God as well. I did not know that there were monks there and I really enjoyed learning about their lifestyle.”
She said the conference provided the tools and techniques “I could use back at home that keep me connected to God. For me, a big part of it was strengthening that one-on-one relationship with God, which then helps everything else in my life fall into place. I hope to use those tools to keep my faith as my number one priority and to help others get to that point as well. I also hope to take the skills I learned, like leading prayer and reading at Mass, and use them in my parish.”
Caden Shetler, 17, a student at Regina High School, said St. Mary Parish church leadership encouraged him to attend OBOC “as a way of connecting with others who are my same age and to grow deeper in my faith.” He especially appreciated the experience of vespers in the Archabbey with the Benedictine monks. Overall, the conference “was a good opportunity for personal reflection and this is something I can carry forward in my life when I am working through something challenging. I also enjoyed the opportunity to converse with church leadership and other youths across the country.”
Leah Zimmerman, 16, also a student at Regina High School, chose to attend OBOC “because I wanted to dive deeper into my faith and get more out of it. I knew that if I was going to see what my faith meant to me, I was going to need some time to focus purely on my faith.”
“One thing I was extremely impressed by were the people who ran the conference. From the interns who led us in our daily activities, to the people who spoke, to the people behind the scenes. They were all very rooted and committed to their faith and everyone was filled with pure joy. They were truly glad to have us there and they were excited to help us grow stronger in our faith. I enjoyed being part of a faith-filled community,” Zimmerman said.
“I hope to use what I learned to help others. No matter who you are, you deserve to be loved. This conference opened my eyes to see that was Jesus’ message to me. Everyone deserves to feel the love that I feel from God and my faith. I hope to show this to everyone I meet in my lifetime.”
Maddie Schuh, 16, a student at City High School in Iowa City, said she chose to attend OBOC as a great way to strengthen her faith and become closer to God. “It is also a great way to make new friends from all over the country. Whether they are other participants, interns or monks!”
“What impressed me most was how agreeable and open-minded everyone was,” Schuh said. “Nobody ever openly disagreed and everyone just accepted others for the way that they were, no matter what.”
Bishop Zinkula said he hopes the youths who participated in OBOC “have a deeper love of their Catholic faith, a greater appreciation of the liturgy, and a stronger desire to grow in holiness. I hope that what they learned and experienced at OBOC will give them the knowledge and confidence to become more active in their parishes. I hope that this event will change the way they live their lives and practice the faith, which will inspire others to do the same.”