For a few hours on Oct. 14 and 15, Credit Union 1 Arena at the University of Illinois at Chicago turned into a large worship space filled with praise and worship music, inspirational speakers, eucharistic adoration and Mass with Cardinal Cupich and over 8,700 young people in grades sixth through nine. It was the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Holy Fire event, returning in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The event was first held in 2016, and is similar to the National Catholic Youth Conference, a biennial national event for high schoolers that engages young people with music and witness talks. The day also included opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Most of the attendees on Oct. 14 were Catholic school students, while most who came Oct. 15 were religious education students. “The goal of Holy Fire is to provide a powerful moment of encounter, worship and fun for our young people in grades six through nine,” said Emily MacDonnell, youth ministry event coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago. “We know that this is a really pivotal time for young people on their faith journey, especially those that are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation.” Holy Fire also provides the experience of a broader church, beyond their parish or school communities. “Holy Fire gives them a chance to come together to worship, to learn about themselves through witness and just simply experience being one, diverse people of God,” she added. Students from St. Constance School, 5841 W. Strong St., were among the attendees on Oct. 14. Teacher Nicole Dalsanto said the day was a success for the students. “It was a great opportunity for the kids to come together, especially those making their confirmation this year, to celebrate and have a good time,” Dalsanto said. “They were a little iffy on what it would be about, but I think they really enjoyed the singing and the concerts so it was a good time.” Sonya Mikata, a seventh grader at St. Constance, left with a deeper relationship with God. “It was really holy, I guess,” she said. Looking forward to her confirmation next year she said, “I think I’m going to feel closer to God in some way.” Old St. Patrick Parish, 700 W. Adams St., brought its religious education students on Oct. 14. They found seats down in front of the stage on the floor level, which gave them a good view of the speakers and performers. “I really liked when we were just on our knees praying [during adoration]. It was kind of quiet. I really liked that,” said seventh grader Caroline Hurley. It had been a while since she took part in adoration. “It was really nice to do it again,” she said. “What I liked about today was it made it fun to be here. It wasn’t like normal church. It was more fun,” said eighth grader Seamus O’Meara. Holy Fire also changed his view of his faith life. “I feel like I will look at it differently now that you see what it’s done for people and how it’s helped people,” he said. Several speakers, including Daughter of St. Paul Tracey Dugas, gave the youth tips on how to pray and what to say in prayer. All of it was simple advice like praying, “God, help me to want what you want.” Hurley said she found that helpful. “Sometimes I don’t know what to pray for and now I know more about how I should pray and what to do and how to pray for my friends and family” she said. “Now that I know it will be easier.” Teacher Jen Coffey agreed that the day inspired the students. “It’s just been a really awesome experience — the music and helping the kids understand how to pray, and learning what adoration is because we don’t often talk about that,” Coffey said. “The music has been the most fun, really. It’s just a different experience from what we’re used to.” She will bring more students to Holy Fire when it is held again in 2024. “Seeing their faces, I could see that they were getting something out of it today,” Coffey said.