By Fr. Corey Close
Twenty-three thousand people praying together in silence. That is what I will remember most vividly from the trip I was able to take with my parish to NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) in Indianapolis this past November.
Leaving early Thursday morning on Nov. 21, and returning the following Sunday, I experienced an event filled with inspirational talks, music, cheering crowds and breakout sessions. What impressed me most, however, and what was “in the air” was the fraternity fostered by the event. In the youths, it was quite obvious.
Each parish group from all 50 states brought bags of what they called “swag:” buttons, hats and homemade knick-knacks, anything you might think of. They traded this swag with each other, pinning the newly won swag onto their event badges, soon looking like a well-experienced Girl Scout troop. The opportunity for Catholic youths to encounter others like themselves, who are normal kids excited about their faith, was in many ways the core of the event.
But the youths were not the only ones to have such an opportunity. As a priest, I was amazed by the experiences that were opened up for me. I bumped into many old friends from my seminary days whom I had not seen for many years. It was great to be able to see men I studied with who are now priests. Also, on Friday night, alumni from my seminary who attended NCYC got together and went for dinner. It was an awesome experience. Out of the 10 of us, only one did I know from my days in seminary. Yet, there was a fraternity and a friendship shared among us which extended beyond actually knowing each other. Just as the youths were bonding with fellow Catholics they had never met, here I was as a priest bonding with other priests I had never met. It was an experience I will not soon forget.
Another hallmark of my trip, without a doubt, was the long lines both for confessions to be heard and for priests to hear confessions! There were more priests than makeshift confessionals available, but I was able to hear confessions for an hour on Friday and two hours on Saturday, which is always an awesome experience. Since most of the confession spaces were visible to one another, I got to see old friends hear confessions, including our own Bishop Martin Amos, which was really great to see. When there was a lull in numbers, I went to another priest and had him hear my confession, which is always a moment of healing for me. I hope all of you make this beautiful sacrament a part of your Advent this season.
The “grand finale” was the Mass celebrated Saturday evening at the end of the event. Seeing 23,000 youths and adults and more than 300 priests, bishops and deacons praying or kneeling in silence after having received Communion made the Mass the highlight of the trip for many. It was an awe-inspiring experience which I was privileged to participate in.
I hope and pray that all who participated in NCYC will use the graces they received to bring the excitement, joy, and love of Christ and of our faith to others, and that they may experience it for themselves. God bless, and I hope you all have a happy Advent!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)
By Fr. Corey Close