To read this article in Spanish, click here. About 7,500 middle school students sang, danced and shared their faith Oct. 18 and 19 at Holy Fire Chicago, a gathering intended to help students in sixth to ninth grade reflect on and witness to their Catholic faith in a daylong event. Most of the attendees on Oct. 18 were Catholic school students, while most who came Oct. 19 were religious education students or individual young people who came with their parents. Similar to the National Catholic Youth Conference, a biennial national event for high schoolers, Holy Fire engages young people with music and witness talks. The day also included opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, eucharistic adoration and Mass celebrated by Cardinal Cupich. This was the fourth year Holy Fire was held in Chicago, and the first time registrations for the Saturday — the one aimed at religious education students — outstripped registrations for Friday, said Father Peter Wojcik, director of the archdiocese’s Department of Parish Vitality and Mission. St. Symphorosa middle school teachers Janet Funk and Eileen Akroush said they have brought their school’s seventh and eighth graders to Holy Fire each of the last three years. “It’s just an extremely enjoyable day for our students,” Funk said. “It’s a way for them to experience God and the Holy Spirit in a way they never did before,” Akroush said. “You get to get up and sing and dance.” The teachers said their students are often skeptical about the music before they get to the event, held at the Credit Union 1 Arena, the former UIC Pavilion at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “They’re like, ‘Christian rock? No thanks,’” Akroush said. “They didn’t think they would like it. But then they get here and they really get into it.” This year’s lineup included the band Epic, musical artist Joe Melendrez and, this year, Father Rob Galea, a priest from Australia who is also a recording artist and author. Galea sang but also told the young people about growing up in Malta, drinking and using drugs and running with a rough crowd. When one of his erstwhile friends put the word out that he was looking to beat up Galea, Galea spent weeks hiding in his room — weeks that his mother spent outside his door, praying for him. That was when he felt God calling to him, telling him he was loved. “We don’t need to be perfect, to have our lives in order, for God to love us and to use us,” Galea told the students. “He’ll take our mess and turn it into a message. … You are loved by Jesus no matter how messed up you think you are.” Colleen Dowd, a seventh grader from Queen of Martyrs School in Evergreen Park, took Galea’s words to heart. “I’m trying to be a better Catholic,” she said. “And what he said, about how he was addicted and everything, and the way he went from that to being a priest, it shows that you can do that.” Tina O’Shea, coordinator of faith formation at Queen of Martyrs, said she likes the way Holy Fire exposes students to thousands of other young people. “I love the opportunity for the students to see the wider church they are part of,” O’Shea said. “There is something about being in a place with your peers who are all singing and dancing.” Alyse Adolf, a seventh grade teacher at St. Pius V School, came with the seventh and eighth graders at her school. It was the first time St. Pius V sent students to Holy Fire, she said. “We’d heard really good things,” she said. “And it’s better than we expected.” St. Pius V seventh grader Anthony Valdez said he was expecting a smaller room, maybe with a stage at the front. “This is way bigger,” he said. “It’s really fun.” Seventh and eighth graders from St. Agnes of Bohemia School, gathered around a table in the concourse for lunch, said the music was fun, especially since their chaperones allowed them to go to the front of the stage to dance. “You get to interact with the music,” said eighth grader Natalie Madrigal.