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Seminarians see festival as music, faith connection for young people

Tony LaRussa
| Thursday, June 25, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

Levi Hartle was no stranger to hearing guitars strumming at Mass while he was growing up.

But it wasn't until he attended a retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, as a high school freshman, that he realized the power music has to help people connect more deeply with their faith.

"We had some good folk groups at my church, but most of the music they played was written in the 1970s," said Hartle, 23, of Saxonburg, Butler County. "But the first time I heard contemporary Christian songs at a liturgical celebration I thought, 'What's going on with that?' I was inspired. I could relate to the music."

On Monday night, Hartle and three other young men studying for the priesthood at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton hope to replicate some of the experiences that helped draw them closer to God. The Festival of Praise begins at 6:30 p.m. at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton.

"We're inviting high school and college students -- people in their teens through their 30s -- to join us in activities that we believe will help get them excited about their faith," said Hartle, who, following the retreat he attended at Franciscan University, got together with friends at his parish to do contemporary music during liturgies.

"We learned that music is something that, on a very simple level, can help people develop a more intimate relationship with God," Hartle said. "And once that connection is made, people usually want it to go deeper."

Joining Hartle in planning the festival are fellow seminarians Mike Ackerman, Carl Stuvek and Eric Campbell, who had similar experiences with the transforming role music can play in a person's spiritual life.

"A Festival of Praise is an opportunity to give glory to God in a variety of ways," said Ackerman, 25, of Aspinwall. "The event is really meant to energize all who attend, but especially the youth of the diocese. We want them to take what they have received, the message of hope and the excitement, back to their parishes.

"Our hope is to foster vocations to the priesthood and to religious life and give the youth an opportunity to see how God calls all kinds of people to serve him," he said.

Ackerman has been building interest by inviting people through church youth groups in the diocese and by promoting the festival on social networking sites such as Facebook. The event also is listed on the diocese's Web site as well as those of local Catholic schools.

The event, though aimed at teenagers and young adults, is open to all.

In addition to food, fellowship and contemporary liturgical music to accompany the praise and worship service, the festival will include opportunities for confession, silent meditation and prayer, a litany for vocations and Eucharistic adoration.

"This is something we've wanted to do for a while, and Bishop (David) Zubik has been pretty interested in it," said Stuvek, 20, of Carmichaels, Greene County. "A few of us who have backgrounds as musicians have been exposed to praise and worship before.

"It has been extremely impactful in my spiritual life, and it's something I'd like to share with everyone. In this particular event, the focus is going to be on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, especially through song," Stuvek said.

Additional Information:

If you go

What: Festival of Praise

Where: St. Paul Seminary, 2900 Noblestown Rd., Crafton

When: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Monday

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