Middle-school students can experience the same style of evangelization and worship and praise that their high school peers get at the National Catholic Youth Conference at a one-day event in Chicago. Holy Fire will include music from the Oswald Brothers and Ike Ndolo, music and a talk from, Joe Melendrez, “Christian vaudeville” from APeX Ministries and talks from dynamic speakers on Oct. 14 and again on Oct. 15 at the UIC Pavilion. Participants can choose either day. “The goal is to offer an event that the young people will find inspiring and entertaining,” said Rick Moreno, parish vitality coordinator for Vicariate IV and coordinator of Holy Fire. “Both on the local level and the national level, we’ve heard that the problem is ‘confirmation graduation,’” Moreno said. “People get confirmed and simply disappear from our parishes and especially our youth ministries.” One way to address that is to improve what the church is offering students in middle school or the first year of high school. “This is something that’s a bit more up-to-date,” he said. “It’s a more modern experience. It’s a full-sensory event with music, bands, and several dynamic speakers. It will hopefully be an effective method to inspire youth to own their faith, and to understand that to own their faith means to participate in the church.” The event is being produced in partnership with the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministries and Declan Weir Productions, which produced the National Catholic Youth Conference. Rose Koch, the youth minister at St. Michael Parish in Orland Park, said her parish will send more than 80 students, including eighth-graders from the parish school and those who participate in the English- and Spanish-language religious education programs. The day will serve as a confirmation retreat for the young people, she said. She was excited to see something on the level of NCYC for the junior high students. “We’ve been going to NCYC forever,” she said. “We do it because we really need to get them out of the box. For a lot of them, the only way they experience church is at our parish on Sunday.” NCYC shows the high schoolers that there are many more Catholic teens and gives them a chance to experience Christian rock and pop music and hear speakers who know how to inspire them. She’s hoping that her junior high student get something similar. “They need something that’s entertaining,” she said. “That’s where they’re at. It might sound ridiculous, but if we can give that to them, then they might stay.” Moreno said the church needs to address junior high students in a way they understand. “We need more emphasis on direct ministry that is adapted to this day and age,” he said. “This is very high quality.” Moreno said part of the goal is to remind young teens that religion and spirituality aren’t enemies, and that they actually go together. “Sacraments and the Christian way of life are deeply rewarding, powerfully spiritual and filled with the experience of joy,” he said. The Archdiocese of Chicago is the first of five dioceses to offer Holy Fire as a pilot project for middle-school students who are too young to participate in the NCYC conference, and has the biggest venue. “We have room for 7,500 each day, and we’re hopeful we’ll get that,” Moreno said, adding that several other Midwestern dioceses are planning to send busloads. “I know the anticipation and the desire for it is very high.” Young people can come on their own, if they have a parent to chaperone, or as part of youth group, religious education group or school group. Early pricing of $40 a person is available until Sept. 23; after that, the cost is $50 a person. Scholarships are available. For more information, visit www.formedcatholic.com/holyfire.