By Celine Klosterman
After living in a relatively small town with one Catholic parish, opening the doors to a room with 20,000 other young Catholics was “mind-blowing.”
At least that’s how Seth Vander Horst of St. Mary Parish in Pella described his experience at the 2007 National Catholic Youth Conference. The 17-year-old is going to the biennial event again next week, where he’ll join about 700 other youths from the Davenport Diocese in Kansas City. Slated for Nov. 19-21, the conference will include workshops on topics such as Catholic spirituality and prayer, social justice issues, sexuality and leadership; opportunities for reconciliation and daily liturgy; concerts, a dance and comedy club.
But what especially appeals to Vander Horst is the fellowship with like-minded peers. “You don’t feel weird making the sign of the cross before you pray, or interacting during Mass, because everyone’s doing it,” he said. He looks forward to running into friends he made at the 2007 conference, too. “It’s all going to pay off,” he said of efforts to raise money for the event.
For about two years, members of his parish have been selling cinnamon rolls and coffee mugs and flocking residential yards with flamingoes — which homeowners pay to remove — to send 19 youths and six chaperones to the conference, Carol Laughlin said. She is St. Mary’s director of religious education. Knights of Columbus chipped in with pancake breakfasts to help cover the per-person cost, set by the diocese, of just over $400. That fee includes registration, transportation and hotel expenses.
St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City got creative with fundraising efforts that have included the parish’s pastor kissing a pig, a raffle of a bobblehead of the pastor and a daylong Mardi Gras party.
NCYC “is probably the biggest life-changing event for a high school student,” said Chuck Brock, St. Patrick’s youth minister. He said this year marks the first time in several years his parish has sent youths. He attended the conference in 2003 as a student and will provide music at this year’s event along with other members of Christian band 1 of 12.
Brock’s encouragement and other attendees’ reviews helped inspire Eoghan Hartley, 15, to join 12 other St. Patrick youths and five chaperones in going to NCYC. “I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people from across the U.S.,” the Regina High School student said. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun from what I’ve heard.”
Tricia Wisniewski, 16, of St. Mary’s in Pella also hopes to meet many young Catholics, and looks forward to the “inspirational” speakers, too. This year’s lineup includes a talk by Jason Evert, a chastity speaker who spoke at several locations in the Davenport Diocese last month, and a workshop led by singer and storyteller ValLimar Jansen, who was the keynoter at this year’s diocesan high school youth rally.
In addition to the speakers, five teens from the diocese will be onstage — among 63 youth animators who applied and were chosen to lead song, prayer, worship and dance. “My goal is to get people excited about God, and show people their faith isn’t anything to be ashamed of,” said Tara Gent, 17, of St. James Parish in Washington.
Fellow animator Natalie Sims, 17, of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell looks forward to the “rush of being in front of 22,000 Catholics who believe the same things I do, and sharing and adding to their experience.”
She and Gent will be joined onstage by Sarah Moser of St. Mary Parish in Oxford and Haley Chapman and Derrick Bertram of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.
Youths aren’t the only ones anticipating the conference. “For adults, it’s a nice way to get away from our daily adult life and get back to our roots to praise God,” said Tracy Russell, youth minister at St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville. Seven youths and four chaperones from her parish will attend NCYC, thanks in part to donations from the parish, church committees and Knights of Columbus, Russell said.
At Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, Ali Failor, 14, decided to attend her first NCYC after hearing about it in her parish youth group. “I’m looking forward to hearing all of the different speakers and really becoming closer to God,” she said. She’s one of 29 youths and seven chaperones from her parish who’ll attend NCYC, after youths raised funds through efforts including washing cars, holding soup suppers and pancake breakfasts and selling roses on Mother’s Day. “All in all I am really excited to go and I can’t wait!”