Dominican Fr. John Marie Bingham chases down the disk during a game of Ultimate Frisbee in front of the University of Portland’s Chapel of Christ the Teacher during last month’s Ignite Your Torch youth conference.
Dominican Fr. John Marie Bingham chases down the disk during a game of Ultimate Frisbee in front of the University of Portland’s Chapel of Christ the Teacher during last month’s Ignite Your Torch youth conference.
Sitting in the shade outside Christ the Teacher Chapel at the University of Portland, Capuchin Brother Nikolas Barth watched from the sidelines as youths and religious played a pickup match of Ultimate Frisbee.

“Look, he tucks his scapular into his belt when he runs,” he said, pointing at a Dominican priest making a diving grab. “It’s always nice to learn those tricks of the trade.”

Brother Nikolas was one of more than 20 religious brothers and sisters from communities across the country who came to Portland July 18-21 for the seventh annual Ignite Your Torch NW youth conference. The gathering is aimed at high school teens and emphasizes the presence of religious brothers and sisters, a pro-life and pro-family message, and reverent liturgy.

The religious played a major role throughout the week, as they delivered keynotes, gave workshops and led small groups of young people, who came from Oregon and Washington.

Many of the attendees had little to no experience of religious dressed in full habits, so it was a culture shock for some.

“It was so interesting seeing them in their habits on the first day,” said Liberty Brumley of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Moses Lake, Washington. “I always thought monks and nuns would be praying all the time. That’s how I understood it. And now I see that, no, they go out, they have fun.”

Religious led more than 30 workshops. Topics included Marian consecration, evangelizing non-Catholics, natural law and the negative effects of pornography. The eagerness of youths to attend the workshops impressed the religious.

“The level of articulation and profundity hasn’t been matched by any other group I’ve seen,” Benedictine Brother Athanasius Soto said of the youths. “Other conferences present material at a lower level, whereas here, (youths) can pick out which conferences they go to, identify their particular interests and build upon those.”

For Brendan Allen, from St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, Washington, Dominican Sister Maria Caeli’s workshop on understanding homosexuality and transgender issues was helpful.

“One of my friends is ‘changed’ and I wanted to figure out more for myself,” he said. “Sister gave me some good answers and insight and cleared up a lot about what he was going through.”

Outside of the workshops and keynotes, the religious and youths got to know each other personally through small group discussions and recreation, which saw habit-clad religious playing Ultimate Frisbee, soccer, volleyball and more.

Jessica Corban, from Holy Rosary Parish in Northeast Portland, said the religious were visible signs of God’s presence at the conference.

“It’s really amazing to me because I can feel and know the presence of God with some of them, but then they’re also so human, so to talk to them and get to know them as people and also see them in that way is pretty great,” she said.

Attendees said they experienced personal connections with God through the daily Masses and opportunities for confession, but especially through adoration held on the second night, during which Father José Manuel Campos Garcia, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Roseburg, processed with the Eucharist and gave each person in attendance a few moments of personal adoration.

As Father Campos Garcia approached her, Brumley was nervous and even shaking, but when he held the monstrance over her head, “I stopped shaking and everything was chill. It was really personal.”

The following morning, attendees were able to put their faith into action as they visited a Planned Parenthood clinic to pray a rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet for the unborn and the women affected by abortion.

“It wasn’t something I had done before,” said James Culver, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Sheridan. “I was excited to share our perspective with the world.”

This type of public demonstration of faith is what Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith said each attendee was called to.

“The most powerful witnesses of the faith are you,” Bishop Smith said during his homily, pointing at the youth. “To the degree that you live a life of faith, the light of Christ enters all those you meet.”

This year’s conference was Corban’s fourth, and she said the encounter with God is what keeps her coming back.

“This conference has done a lot for me personally,” she said. “It has been lifechanging and I know God now because of it.”