By Celine Klosterman
Just being with 23,000 other Catholics is pretty special, according to 14-year-old Cy Heffron.
Add powerful speakers and workshops, Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation, music, games and an interactive thematic park filled with exhibits, and the National Catholic Youth Conference is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the youth said.
A member of St. Mary Parish in Albia, he was one of about 700 youths from the Diocese of Davenport who attended the 31st biennial event, held Nov. 17-19 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“It’s outstanding to have seen 23,000 Catholics in the same place at one time. That for me was a sign I’m doing the right thing,” Heffron said.
Daniela Diaz, a 16-year-old member of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa, also felt assured by the sheer number of faith-filled peers at the conference. She said only about 30 Catholic high school students live in her town, “so it was cool to have so many people at NCYC who know what you’re talking about.”
Maria Finan, who recently attended for the second time, said she enjoyed watching first-time attendees realize they’re not alone in their beliefs. “Celebrating our faith with so many people who are just the same as us is truly life-changing. We sang together, prayed together, and traveled on a faith journey together, and definitely returned home stronger Catholics than when we left,” said the 17-year-old member of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville.
As one of seven youths from the diocese who had agreed to be ambassadors at NCYC, she helped introduce and pray over the speaker for two workshops.
With dozens of workshops available, teens could find guidance on almost any issue they were struggling with or curious about, Diaz said. She especially appreciated a session that explained the arguments for respecting every stage of life. “I never thought of pro-life as being about more than abortion.”
She also was moved by the story of parents who cherished their baby who lived only 99 days. “It showed how precious life is.”
Heffron said he was inspired by a workshop on embracing God’s calling for men. The session showed how to “step up to what God has called you to do as his servant, which is different than a woman’s calling.”
“Over three days, we heard from many inspirational people, including our emcee ValLimar Jansen, as well as Mike Patin, Jesse Manibusan, Steve Angrisano, and several bishops, singers and priests,” Finan said. “Each reminded us of our ‘Call to Glory’” — this year’s theme for NCYC.
The event offers opportunities for participants to grow spiritually outside of weekly Mass, Diaz noted. “It helped me go deeper in my faith.”
Matt Heinrichs, a 15-year-old member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, agreed. The energy of NCYC helped him more strongly feel God’s presence and get out of a “slump” in his faith life, he said. At one prayer session, “The words just came into my mind as if God was trying to tell me something.”
“NCYC was, as expected, nothing short of amazing,” Finan said.