A 97-year-old World War II vet wept while watching a livestream of the National Catholic Youth Conference Mass last month. He “had the faith and assurance that our generation was going to be OK and that through God, everything was possible,” Sam Atchinson, a sophomore at Regina High School-Iowa City wrote in a reflection on NCYC. “This was very moving for us, and it truly gave me hope about my generation,” Sam said in his reflection that appeared in last week’s Catholic Messenger.
Two more student reflections on NCYC appear in this week’s issue along with thoughts from Bishop Thomas Zinkula, which speak to a sense of hope for all of us to reflect on this Advent season. In this fractious era, expressed in animosity even among people who profess the same faith, we benefit from the wisdom of youths who embrace their Catholicism.
Yes, we must reach out to the “nones,” people who have abandoned the church, but also celebrate the youths who make time for prayer, participate in the Mass and address changes necessary to grow in their faith. They challenge themselves and at the same time express joy and happiness because, through God, everything is possible.
“Making our faith in God joyful and fun, with friends and people you meet, is beautiful,” Sam said in his reflection. Not everyone in our diocese had the opportunity to experience Mass with 20,000 other people, but that mountaintop experience affirmed the faith that Sam nurtures as a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville.
Most importantly, the breakout sessions helped Sam to consider leading more and not simply attending Mass and youth group. He appreciated the ideas he took away to grow closer to God and “evangelize the great word of God to everyone.” One speaker talked about balancing faith and sports, an important reminder about prioritizing, Sam said. A reminder all of us need, whether in balancing faith and sports or faith and any other activity that puts faith out of mind.
Annalee Bartels, a junior at Regina and member of St. Thomas More, confronted what she described as a feeling of brokenness in her faith. During eucharistic adoration, she poured out to God her struggles and desires for improvement. How many of us are brave enough, honest enough with ourselves to do the same?
In her surrender to God, she felt God listening to her and sensed God’s presence looking over her. Then she heard a song playing that intensified her feelings. We all need God, she said, and to know that God is always there for us. Our task is to encourage youths like Annalee to share the message of God’s presence with their peers and other people they encounter in their lives.
High school senior Maria Brown of St. Wenceslaus Parish-Iowa City said NCYC helped her to realize the beauty of the Catholic Church — an army of believers “as soldiers, covering each other’s backs through prayer and sacrifice.” In a church influenced by secular polarization, it seems we have become soldiers fighting each other! Imagine how our church would benefit if we covered each other’s backs through prayer and sacrifice, even Catholics we disagree with.
Like many other NCYC participants, Maria mustered the courage and faith to “hand it all over to Jesus.” In eucharistic adoration, she said, “Jesus broke through and showed me where I was deceiving myself and holding back from him.” Maria, a student at City High in Iowa City and her homeschool, is thankful that Jesus showed her “what I needed to change in my life.”
If all of us were to follow suit, we would move closer to the world of hope that Isaiah describes in the first reading for the second Sunday of Advent. “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest …” (Isaiah 11: 1-10).
Like the 97-year-old war veteran, we have reason for hope in the Catholic Church: teenage Catholics who embrace their faith with honesty and joy.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor