By Jen DeCoster
Special to the Key
“You could hear a pin drop” is how many described the experience of 24,000 teens and adults on their knees in complete silence as the Eucharistic presence of Jesus was processed into Lucas Oil stadium. Only seconds before, the crowd was electric, wearing crazy, light up hats and singing and dancing. The biennial National Catholic Youth Conference took place in Indianapolis, Ind., Nov. 19-21. Teens, adult chaperones, parents, Youth Ministers, pastors, schools and dioceses gathered from all over the country for prayer, Mass, catechesis, Reconciliation, Adoration, service, entertainment, community building and discernment.
The 2015 Conference was organized by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) and hosted by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. According to NFCYM’s Executive Director, Bob McCarty, “NCYC offers high school students and their adult chaperones multiple opportunities to interact and learn more about our Catholic faith. Through a variety of activities, we seek to engage the head, heart, and hands of all participants and make a lasting impact on their faith journeys.”
The three-day event featured keynote speakers in the stadium including Father Leo Patalinghug, known as the Cooking Priest, from “Grace Before Meal;” Chris Padgett; Matt Maher; Mark Hart; Father Louis Merosne from Haiti, and Dr. Carolyn Woo, President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.
Breakout sessions and a Thematic Park were held in the Indianapolis Convention Center. The Thematic Park offered experiential activities, a low ropes course and more than 200 organizational exhibits featuring vocations, mission opportunities, colleges and universities, resources and more.
According to a press release, “For most, the NCYC experience deepens faith and prepares young people to start the journey of mature discipleship. For others, it ignites a desire for a more personal relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. For some, NCYC instills a curiosity and desire to explore a vocation. Regardless of where they are on their own faith journey, NCYC provides an opportunity for all to experience the universality of the Church and proclaim in one voice: ‘Here I am Lord!’”
Omo Eke, from St. James Parish in Midtown Kansas City has attended the National Catholic Youth Conference twice. He said, “I think you should go both times, the second time you are more in touch not just with the fun side, you’re more in touch with the spiritual side. The first time you just have to soak it in.”
This year, attendance at the National Catholic Youth Conference was 24,000 teens, chaperones, and youth ministers; 36 Catholic bishops and hundreds of priests and religious. Representing the Diocese of Kansas City- St. Joseph were 268 teens and 96 adults from 25 parishes, five young adults and six priests.
Father Christian Malewski, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Joseph, said, “As a priest, I thought it was important that I accompany and spend time with the youth of the parish. It gave me the opportunity to spend some quality time with them. They are a part of the parish and need to know that I care about them and value their presence. I recommend that priests attend NCYC to experience the youthfulness and vibrancy of the Church in the U.S. Young people are hungry for the truth and for an encounter with Jesus. Seeing them encounter Christ helps my own faith and gives me hope for the future.”
The crowd from Missouri and Kansas sported their Kansas City Royal’s pride. The diocesan shirt, worn on Saturday of the Conference was inspired by the Royal’s World Series win. It was created by two teens from Annunciation in Kearney — Morgan Holloway, the graphic designer and Kayla Ousley. “It was really awesome seeing everyone wear our shirts in real life. We liked it because we thought everyone could wear it to Royals games and other places, so they could share their faith,” Ousley said.
The weekend’s theme was “Here I am Lord,” with the General Sessions covering what that phrase should look like in a high school student’s life. Cassandra Jimenez of St. Francis Xavier in St. Joseph, said, “I came to grow closer in my relationship with Jesus Christ and to make new friends. I learned that no matter what happens in life, you can always present yourself to God because he is always ready for you.”
Morgan Holloway, the designer of the diocesan shirt, said that she learned “to be more open and aware to our surroundings as our youth minister always tells us to see what God is showing us. When we are on our cell phones we miss things, even a simple high five from someone at the conference.”
A favorite moment of the weekend was the Adoration time Saturday night. “Adoration was a highlight as it was in previous years. To hear the crowd go silent yet still feel the energy of worship in the stadium created quite a memory for us,” said Sue Lee, Confirmation Coordinator at St. Jude the Apostle in Oak Grove.
As they travelled back home, teens and parishes discussed individual and group resolutions. “On our way back to Kansas City, the teens could not stop sharing experiences about the people they met from all over the U.S. and new friendships that started with the teens from their own parish. The amazing workshops and speakers the teens went to that opened their eyes to faith questions that they needed answered,” said Holy Family Youth Minister, Rob Lickteig.
Father Bob Stone, Pastor at Nativity of Mary in Independence, has attended 10 NCYC Conferences. He said, “I have heard stories from past youth that the combination of NCYC, Confirmation retreat, and other youth activities have strengthened their faith, and for some have encouraged a vocation to the religious life. The important thing now that we are back home is to build on that enthusiasm. We will plan events that keep the spirit of NCYC alive.”
In opposing years of NCYC, the Youth Office for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph hosts the Kansas City Youth Conference (KCYC). KCYC will take place Nov. 19-20, 2016 at the Muehlebach Hotel in downtown Kansas City. “KCYC is one of the parts of a web that is going to be geared to helping youth ministry at parishes to evangelize their youth and allow for an opening into the lives and hearts of the youth for Jesus and the Youth Ministers to enter. Each youth experiences God differently and this fits that experience for a large group of those youth which allows for youth ministers to develop a friendship or mentorship with them. KCYC is an excellent opportunity to directly impact the needs of this region instead of having to focus on the needs of the entire country,” said Michael Nations, Director of the Office of Youth Ministry.
The focus of KCYC will be “Meek and Merciful,” from the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
“It was chosen because often people do not understand what meekness is and how it is one of the greatest beatitudes needed in today’s society. Mercy is a complimentary beatitude because when you are able to develop meekness you realize how mercy pours out from that meekness. Most people feel meekness is defined as being physically weak when in reality it is actually knowing who you are in God’s eyes and the talents he has graced you with so that you can use those in a merciful way to care, help, and love others,” said Nations.
There will be more information about KCYC 2016 in the upcoming months. For more information, visit www.kcsjyouth.org/kcyc.