By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
The biannual National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) is “a very powerful experience where you can go on a spiritual journey to not only find yourself, but also find yourself in your faith,” said Kayla Box. A junior at Holy Trinity High School and a member of St. Mary Parish in West Point, she attended the in-person event in Indianapolis last month.
About 400 youths, adults and diocesan team members participated in the Nov. 18-20 event as part of the Diocese of Davenport’s official contingency. Two parishes sent their own groups to Indianapolis. An additional 200 youths and adults remained in the diocese to attend NCYC 2.0 virtually at The Highlander Hotel in Iowa City.
Box, who attended NCYC in 2019, chose to attend this year because “I wanted to grow in my faith with amazing kids my age. I wanted to be outgoing and meet new people while learning more about myself and God.” A highlight for her was “praising God through singing. When 10,000 people are in a room singing to God with all their heart, you can feel it. You can feel the energy and the love in the room. It’s an amazing feeling that you definitely want to experience.”
She also appreciated participating in adoration. “I could talk to God my savior and not be judged. I could sit in silence and pray. That feeling was amazing and I would do anything to do it all over again.” Her favorite speaker was Chika Anyanwu, a Catholic evangelist, youth and young adult minister and author whom Box said she could relate to in many ways. During NCYC, youths typically exchange hats or other items with others from throughout the country. Her group had rosary bracelets to trade.
Participants Ella Johnson and Brianna Maerz and Isabella Maerz belong to All Saints Parish in Keokuk and attend Keokuk High School. Johnson said her NCYC experience in 2019 was “life changing,” so she wanted to attend this year. Adoration “took my breath away,” she said. Participating in reconciliation was another highlight. Juan Carlo was her favorite speaker “because he used his magic to explain stuff about God.” Johnson highly recommends teens attend NCYC in 2023. “It’s awesome.”
Brianna Maerz also had “a pretty cool experience my first time.” The event’s music stood out to her. She liked Juan Carlo’s magic act for the way he incorporated the faith into it. Another speaker talked about adopting his son and relating that to God’s adoption of his humanity, which she appreciated.
Isabella Maerz went “to have more experience with Church and God.” A first-time participant, she was encouraged by her sister to attend. Meeting others from across the country was a highlight for her. “All the speakers were really good, it’s hard to pick just one,” she said.
Viridiana Castellanos Ortiz of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa and a junior at Ottumwa High School attended for the first time “to have fun and experience new things.” Like some other participants, her favorite speaker was Chika Anyanwu “because I loved her story and felt a connection.” Mass in the stadium was another highlight. She said it was neat to see so many priests and bishops present. She exchanged her bucket hat for a squid hat and the exchange of that hat for one with “a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary.”
Gisselle Sales Rodriguez of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish and a freshman at Marshalltown High School attended NCYC to experience “new things and get closer to God.” She loved meeting new people and listening to other youths talk about their experiences. Chika Anyanwu helped her reflect on her faith.
Her exchange highs were trading her bucket hat for a piggy beanie, a taco hat and then a hamburger hat.
Lilly Smith, a freshman at Prince of Peace Catholic School and Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton, attended NCYC for the first time and enjoyed meeting other youths from around the country by trading hats. She related well to Chika Anyanwu and said the closing Mass was another highlight. “I have never experienced something like this before. I feel the overall experience helped me grow closer to God.”
Freshman and first-timer Yuliana Marcos of Prince of Peace parish and school, said adoration was one of her favorite experiences “because God was talking to me through the silence and telling me he is here for me and will always be here for me through my darkest times. I really felt him and that made my trip such an amazing experience.” Another highlight was “teenagers just like us spoke about their life experiences with God and how they grow close to him.” Chika Anyanwu was her favorite speaker. With some help, after trading for two days, Marcos acquired a taco hat, one of the fun parts of the conference.
Despite the challenges of holding an event as large as NCYC in the midst of a pandemic, the experience was “high quality, very well organized and touched people’s hearts,” said Don Boucher, director of faith formation and coordinator of youth and young adult ministry.
For those who attended previous NCYCs, this year “was definitely different.” Fewer attendees, no congregating on the stadium floor for music performances and fewer breakouts stood out among the differences, Boucher said. The excellence of programming, presenters, speakers, the music and prayer and worship remained, he noted.
The cheerful noise of past NCYCs during evenings at the hotel contrasted with this year’s quiet, he said. “In years past, some of our groups did some processing of the day, but many just hung out, relaxed and socialized before they went up to their rooms for the night. And it was loud. But this year, the quiet was deafening as they spread out across the first floor of the hotel and had some great conversations and sharing in small groups. That quiet and the intensity of their conversations in their small groups told me that the Holy Spirit was definitely at work.”
Brenda Bertram, youth minister at Prince of Peace Parish, wrote this reflection as the group prepared to head out to NCYC. “We are the JC POPEYES (Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Eucharistic Youth Empowered by the Spirit) who are anchored in Jesus. Our NCYC pilgrimage (began) off in the dirt, anchored at the edge of the parking lot. Jesus reminding us he was in control. A lot of extra prayers were offered up when the tow truck arrived to pull the bus onto the parking lot.”
“With the busyness of schedules it gave our group time to share and discuss some of the logistics as well as hopes and feelings for the days ahead. With Jesus and the saints, the tow truck gently pulled the bus out and we were on our way.”
“Reflecting on the situation, when things get tough in your life, you can look to Jesus, our faith, beliefs, and know that it will all work out. Jesus was in control the entire trip. It is amazing the changes that happened in this pilgrimage.”