By Deacon Bob Glaser
A year ago, when I was asked to chaperone the students from Divine Mercy Parish and St. Mary Parish in Des Moines County on their trip to the National Catholic Youth Conference, NCYC for short, I thought great, I could use a weekend away. Over the years I had participated in many conferences, both professional and church related. They were usually a time of reflection, recharging and rest. Rest? NCYC? In a stadium and convention hall with 25,000 teenagers? What was I thinking?
This was my first exposure to NCYC, and I was not sure just what was the dynamic. Over the months of preparation, I had observed our young people as they prepared and raised funds for the trip. I saw the designs of crazy shirts and hats and other trade items. I heard older students express excitement as they talked about earlier experiences at this conference. As the time for the trip neared, our local organizer, Cease Cady, was excited that our numbers had reached 43 students along with eight chaperones. We would have a bus of our own. Cease warned me to rest up. Did I listen? Was I ready for what was to happen? No, of course not.
We left from Notre Dame School in Burlington early on Thursday morning and arrived in Indianapolis at mid-afternoon. The excitement built on the bus. There was time for prayer, time for snacks, time for laughter. Upon arriving at the hotel, we heard that our rooms were not ready, so the bus took us to the Lucas Oil Stadium. From there we trekked across downtown Indianapolis to the restaurant where we had reservations. That is when I began to realize the specialness of these young people I was traveling with. As a group, they navigated across the downtown without losing a single person.
Upon returning to the stadium, we began an evening of music, witness talks and prayer. On that first night I began to hear speakers and moderators refer to the young people at the conference as the “young church,” and I began to reflect on those words. So often we refer to young members of the church as the “future of the church,” but in reality, they are the present. That idea became very much alive to me as the weekend progressed and I got caught up in the growing energy that was everywhere throughout the venue of this event. The faith is very strong in this “young church.”
Friday, the first full day, began with prayer and music in the stadium and then moved to breakout sessions in the convention center. During the course of the day confession and Mass were available. A large thematic village, as well as concessions and vendors, were available. The evening ended with a concert, more witness talks and adoration. A sight that will stay with me forever occurred when the Monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey finished chanting vespers and we moved to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and 25,000 teenagers fell silent; many, if not most, falling to their knees on the hard stadium floor. This memory still leaves me with chills.
Saturday followed the same pattern, ending with Mass in the stadium. The moments of grace and hope that I saw and experienced as members of the “young church” from all over our country mingled throughout the venues are just too many to list. This past Sunday a mother of two young people on the trip asked me if I had recovered. I told her, “No.” Then, after a moment of reflection, I told her, “And I hope that I won’t.”
(Deacon Bob Glaser serves at Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville.)