By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
On the evening of April 28, young adults will take to the sidewalks of downtown Iowa City near St. Mary Church for Nightfever, offering passersby an invitation to see the church in a new light.
During the event, St. Mary Church will be open 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The church will be illuminated by candlelight as young adults play worship music. Participants may pray before the Blessed Sacrament, talk to young adult Catholics and make their confessions to priests.
The street teams will offer no-pressure invitations to people hanging out downtown. “We’ll say, ‘Here’s a candle; there’s an event in the church if you want to come pray,’” said Maria Fernanda “Mafer” Larraga Martinez, a University of Iowa senior and one of the event’s student leaders. “It’s just an opportunity for people to come to the church and encounter God on their own terms.”
Nightfever events have occurred all over the world, the first being held in Germany shortly after World Youth Day in 2015. Nightfever staff in Germany help guide organizers before and after the event through video calls. A requirement of Nightfever is that the events are to be organized and run by young adults ages 16 to 35. “One goal is to show people the church is young,” Larraga Martinez said. “Some people think the church is too old-fashioned, not moving forward. This is an opportunity to show people that young Catholics are here and very passionate.”
Organizers say this will be the first Nightfever event in Iowa. Christine Wissink, director of Outreach and Education for the Newman Catholic Student Center at the University of Iowa, took part in Nightfever events in Sacramento, her previous city of employment. She shared her experiences with University of Iowa students, who were eager to try hosting a Nightfever event. “They took it and ran with it.”
“It sounded to me like something the Iowa City community could really benefit from,” said student leader Clara Wertzberger, a sophomore. “It’s a simple event in and of itself, but something that could have a big impact on anyone who participates.” About 20-25 young adults will volunteer in a variety of ways, including through worship music, street team, decorations and hospitality.
“I think it’s a great way to draw people in,” said Larraga Martinez. “We had been looking for an (outreach) event that included prayer, worship and fellowship, and we wanted to do something we hadn’t done here before.”
Wertzberger noted that the event has the potential to draw in people who have misconceptions about the church, or people who have fallen away. She said people often think of the church as being all about rules and obligations. “Nightfever is a great opportunity to show that that’s not who we are as Catholics. God calls us to be open, loving and merciful. But the most beautiful thing is the Eucharist. To be able to share that with people on a simple night, in its truest form, is so cool.”
Anyone may stop by for Nightfever, regardless of age. “I think it’ll have significant impact on community. That’s what we’re praying for, anyway.”