Veteran youth minister David Calavitta says it’s good to know about Jesus Christ -- but it’s much better to actually know Him.

Helping teenagers get to know the Lord is the primary purpose of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ City of Saints Teen Conference, Aug. 4-6, at UCLA, he adds. Calavitta will serve as master of ceremonies for the event, and brings to his role a passion for introducing people to Jesus.

“I think often as Catholics, especially as teenage Catholics, we know about Jesus but we haven’t met Jesus,” he says. “The conference is designed to facilitate that introduction with Jesus Christ, as a person, not just as information. Information doesn’t always demand a response. But a personal encounter with Jesus? That demands a response.”

Calavitta likens forming a relationship with Christ to getting married and other life changing decisions.“It’s not enough for me to know about my wife,” he says. “I have to be in a relationship with her day to day, that’s what a marriage is.”

Calavitta has worked in Catholic youth ministry since 2000, and currently serves as director of marketing and graphic design for Life Teen International, a worldwide Catholic youth ministry with major offices in Atlanta, Phoenix, and St. Louis.

Calavitta works remotely from his home in Irvine, California, and attends St. Anne Church in Seal Beach, along with his wife, Brittany, and his son, Judah. In a phone interview, his tone of voice indicates he clearly relishes trying to reach young people with the Gospel.

“I don’t know a better job or a better position to be in,” he says. “You get a front row seat to seeing people starting to live out their conversion and salvation.”

Catholics and Christ

Calavitta credits his employer, Life Teen, for helping him find Jesus within the Catholic Church. He has two older brothers who converted to evangelical Christianity from Catholicism, he says, alluding to the fact many evangelicals emphasize the importance of having a "personal relationship" with Jesus, and not just belonging to a church.

Life Teen ministers he met as a teenager taught Calavitta that he didn’t have to look outside the Catholic Church for a personal relationship with Jesus because Christ is the heart of the Catholic faith. He added that he learned the sacraments can be a powerful means by which he could form a personal relationship with the Lord. For example, he says, Life Teen introduced him to Eucharistic adoration, the practice of praying before the consecrated host, which is displayed in a monstrance.

“Experiencing the reality of Jesus in the Eucharist changed my heart,” he says. “It made Jesus not only spiritually present, but physically present before me.”

He adds that the youth ministers whom he encountered got him interested in his faith.

“When they met me, I wasn’t necessarily excited about Jesus and definitely not about Catholicism,” he says. “Through Life Teen I came in contact with the love of God, and that led me to get involved in serving youth.”

He adds that he believes City of Saints is part of God’s plan for the Catholic Church in California, a state rich in church history.

“I think teens living out a saintly life is a huge part of that happening,” he adds.

Although he stresses that, while nothing can replace the role individual parish youth ministries play in forming young Catholics, big events like City of Saints are important for them. Assembling in large numbers with other teenagers can do much to help a young person find the strength she or he needs to live out their faith in a world that doesn’t always support spiritual quests.

“They can see firsthand it’s okay to be a teenager and follow Christ,” he says. “For a teenager to see that there are a lot of other Catholic teenagers who are excited about their faith is encouraging. They don’t have to feel like the odd man out. That’s encouraging to know you have a family to journey with.”