ICYC ‘23: You Matter, You Belong, You Are Loved

Lindsay Steele
Bishop Thomas Zinkula celebrates Mass during the Iowa Catholic Youth Conference March 26 at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — “Today is a celebration of our young Church and we are so glad you are here,” Mount Mercy University undergrad Clare Bechen told a group of 250 middle school students and parents assembled in the university’s gym for the Iowa Catholic Youth Conference.

The Diocese of Davenport and Arch­diocese of Dubuque organized the March 26 event, themed “You Matter, You Belong, You Are Loved,” to help youths in eastern Iowa recognize their value as children of God and as members of the Catholic Church.

Today, “we are hoping to share the greatest gifts our Church has to offer and you may be surprised to know that one of the greatest gifts is you,” said Bechen, a Bettendorf native who served as an event emcee with fellow undergrad Vanessa Milliman of Iowa City.


Mount Mercy President Todd Olson greeted participants and applauded the organizers for their “amazing work getting youth and young people here today. Staff from (both dioceses) have worked hard to make this big day come together. They thought a lot about what would help you most during the day.”

Nashville-based singer/song­writer Dana Catherine spoke to participants and led music worship. She admitted she used to base her self-worth on what other people thought of her, as well as her academic and athletic achievements. “I was obsessed with being the best at everything.”

In college, she could no longer rely on these anchors. She didn’t know anyone and worried she wouldn’t make friends because she didn’t feel comfortable engaging in the “cliché college party culture.” She was no longer a top student, but one of many top students. She struggled to open up to the few friends she did have because she was afraid of being judged negatively. “I vividly remember lying in my bed (and praying). There were tears streaming down my face… I was very confused. How could everything change so quickly? Most of the things I had relied on to feel like I was enough in life, the things I relied on to define myself and feel like I belonged and mattered, had been stripped away.”

Through time and prayer, she realized that temporary accomplishments did not define her worth. “If something can disappear in the matter of a month, that is not at the heart of what your identity is. When everything is said and done, we are children of God… that cannot be taken away.”

This acceptance allowed Catherine to thrive and become more vulnerable with others. “‘You Matter, You Belong, You Are Loved’ means we have strength in God,” no matter what. “That gives us strength to go through anything in life and to fulfill our mission” to love God, love others and share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Catherine reassured youths that God can work through anyone. “You have a specific personality, experiences, (areas) where you’ve fallen short, talents and interests. No person is better than another. God made you for a reason!”

Lindsay Steele
Nadia LeClair of St. Patrick Parish and Alecia Miller of St. Mary Parish, both in Iowa City, write prayer requests during the Iowa Catholic Youth Conference March 26 at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.

Alecia Miller of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City said she appreciated Catherine’s willingness to share personal testimony. “Getting to know her personally helped me understand (her message) more.”

“It was cool that she shared her story; I never heard a story from real life like that,” said Amaya Cervantes of St. Mary Parish in Pella. Harper Guess, also from Pella, added, “Everything can change so fast, but it’s okay” as long as you have God.

After the opening talk, youths participated in breakout sessions focused on caring for creation, self-acceptance and finding God in popular music. Faith formation directors asked youths to share their thoughts and concerns about the Church. The anonymous responses were to be shared later with Archbishop Michael Jackels. Other activities included writing prayer requests, making inspirational message cards, playing games and chatting with Catherine. After lunch, she shared more about her faith journey.

Bishop Thomas Zinkula offered a final talk, explaining the meaning and significance of his vestments, pectoral cross, zucchetto, miter, ring and crosier. He shared his connection to the archdiocese as a Mount Vernon native and a parish priest. Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, not far from the

Lindsay Steele
A group from St. Mary Parish in Solon poses for a fun photo with cardboard cutouts of Archbishop Michael Jackels and Pope Francis at the Iowa Catholic Youth Conference March 26 at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Mount Mercy campus, was his birthplace.

Bishop Zinkula closed the conference presiding at Mass. “God loves us unconditionally and sacrificially,” he said during the homily. “We matter to God! He has blessed us with gifts, friends, family, nature, food, clothing, housing, school and recreation, but the best gift of all is our faith.” We show our love for God by loving others and sharing our time, blessings, gifts and talents. “We need to take Christ into the world, be Christ for others and see Christ in others,” he said. “That’s what we’re called to do.”

Liam Bellich of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton said he enjoyed seeing Bishop Zinkula at the conference. Chloe Gardenier of St. Mary Parish in Solon left with the confidence of knowing “God always loves us.”


When your pre-teen asks a tough question
During the breakout sessions, parents hung out in the “parent lounge” and listened to a presentation from Marianne Agnoli, marriage and family life coordinator for the Davenport Diocese. She offered guidance on how to respond to their children’s questions on topics such as sex, pornography, abortion and LGBTQ issues. “Sometimes we avoid talking about it,” she said. “It’s important for them to know that they can talk to you about anything.” How parents respond will set the tone for future interactions. She offered eight steps for responding to tough questions:
• Prepare ahead of time for potential questions.
• Try not to freak out.
• Reassure your child of your unconditional love.
• Listen for understanding with “what” questions.
• Ask “why” questions — but don’t interrogate.
• Respectfully share your perspective.
• Provide access to additional support.
• Keep the door open to further conversations.

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