By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
INDIANAPOLIS — More than 840 high school-aged youths and adult chaperones from the Diocese of Davenport joined about 23,000 fellow Catholics in Indianapolis at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) for fun, fellowship and worship. They made their presence known with custom yellow T-shirts featuring the Famous Amos cookie logo and a picture of Bishop Martin Amos.
The conference held Nov. 19-21, with the theme “Here I Am Lord,” offered youths the opportunity to listen to Catholic speakers and musicians, participate in break-out sessions and worship and socialize with Catholics from across the country. The larger group events — such as an all-conference Mass, eucharistic adoration, main speaker talks and worship music — took place in Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts play. Other festivities occurred in the convention center across the street.
Bishop Amos participated in the event alongside the youths. “As usual, it was very loud, but the energy was incredible. The Mass was very moving.” He thought the speakers were terrific. Father Leo Patalinghug (the “Cooking Priest”) gave a great talk on avoiding temptation. Carolyn Woo, who leads Catholic Relief Services, inspired the youths with the story of her life. As for the “Famous Amos” T-shirts, Bishop Amos took a little ribbing from his fellow bishops, he quipped.
In addition to the diocesan tees, parishes came up with unique shirt and accessory ideas of their own to wear during the conference. St. Ann Parish in Long Grove designed Where’s Waldo-themed shirts imprinted with the phrase “Here I am Lord.” St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa wore “Pope Squad” hockey jerseys with the name of a pope and a corresponding number on the back. They also wore knitted and crocheted fox hats that women from the parish created. St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville went with a “lights” theme by wearing blue cowboy hats, sequined gloves and scarves, all with LED lights attached.
The custom shirts were not only fun, but also a way for youths and chaperones to find each other in the crowd, said Michelle Montgomery, youth minister of the Coralville parish. “When you see the lights, you know you’re headed in the right direction,” she said with a laugh.
A long-standing tradition at NCYC is for youths to trade their custom accessories for those worn by youths of other dioceses. “It gets quite competitive,” said Donna DeJoode, director of religious education and youth minister of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa. Some of her youths traded their accessories for military ball caps from the Archdiocese of the Military USA, sunflower hats, squid hats, pig hats with flapping wings, camel hats, turkey hats, umbrella hats and more. Youths from the diocese also distributed 8,400 bags of Famous Amos cookies (featuring the same logo as the tees) to youths from other dioceses as a way to mingle and make new friends.
Seventeen diocesan youths had the opportunity to serve as ambassadors at NCYC. Their task was to serve as hosts of the breakout sessions. Lauren Ries, 18, of St. Thomas More-Coralville, said the experience of being an ambassador made her second trip to NCYC even better than the first.
Among the activities was NCYC’s Top Talent contest. Julia Fritz, 14, from St. James Parish in Washington, sang her way into the final group of nine. As a result, she had the opportunity to perform one of her favorite inspirational songs, “I Hope You Dance” by LeAnn Womack, in front of about 3,000 people in the convention center. Although she’s competed in county fair-type competitions several times, competing at NCYC proved to be a unique experience due to the close bonds formed with other contestants and the faith-based context. “I’ve done other competitions but this was different. It had a spiritual feeling. I got to get up and sing in front of my parish, God and the other people there and make them happy.”
The fun and camaraderie were rivaled only by the conference’s worship experiences. During eucharistic adoration, some 24,000 people in attendance fell silent in worship, recalled DeJoode. Following adoration, participants sang worship music.
Joe Sterner, 18, of the Oskaloosa parish, said that evening was a highlight of his NCYC experience. “All 24,000 people in the stadium were singing the same song led by (musician) Matt Maher. It was just powerful. Afterwards, I was looking around at my friends — and I had made many new ones — and I could tell they felt the same thing. I think the adoration beforehand amplified everyone’s experience as well as mine. Overall, it was just an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget.”
Collin Lowry, 17, also of the Oskaloosa parish, said the group worship experiences in the stadium were among his favorite memories, as well. “I feel like I really connected with God and everyone else in the stadium.” He also enjoyed the opportunity to be around so many youths who share his beliefs.
Youths also had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Father Martin Goetz, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington, was one of the confessors. “I was blessed to hear so many confessions and listen to the stories of our youths. They hunger so much for meaning and God in their lives,” he reflected.
Sierra Petersen, a 16-year-old from St. Joseph Parish-DeWitt, said the weekend as a whole was powerful. “Seeing 24,000 kids and chaperones in one place praising God, having fun, crying and laughing over the course of three days was phenomenal. I now understand that most Catholic teenagers are going through the same struggles I am, and know that I am not alone. It’s hard and tedious sometimes, but I have to remember, I am here on this earth to be a shining light for Christ. My mission is to step up to the challenge saying “Here I Am Lord.” It won’t be easy, but God is with me every step of the way.”
To read our editorial on helping youths maintain their level of excitement and devotion post- NCYC, visit http://www.catholicmessenger.net/2015/12/post-ncyc-how-to-keep-the-flame-burning/
More youth reflections from NCYC
I was struggling with my faith a little before I came but after what I learned I felt this has given me the ability to spread God’s word to those around me. I am going to try not to be so hard on myself when I make mistakes and hope I will keep remembering the silence during the adoration session that was so powerful that allowed me to really silence myself and feel his presence. The songs, prayers and speakers were beyond amazing; it forever has changed my life. – Katie Sheehan, St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville
I thought I had faith, but did I really? Because of this NCYC pilgrimage I have a completely stronger faith and learned how to be open to all of the possibilities of my faith though the spirit of Christ. Father Tony Ricard’s session opened a new way of thinking for me; “Don’t Be Stupid.” There is a difference between being ignorant and being stupid. Ignorance is doing something wrong and you did not know it, but stupid is knowing it’s wrong and still doing it! This outlook opens up a new way of thinking before I attempt to do something that could be wrong. I feel this will help me a lot to think before I do something that could cause me to be stupid and sin.I can honestly say this NCYC was the most eye opening, heartwarming experience I’ve had ever had, I have found my God again in the most fun way! – Riley Brunk, St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville
God is good all the time, no matter where you are in life or how you’re feeling Jesus is always there! This was my second time to attend NCYC. The question was asked, “Can it get any better the second time around?” Oh Yes It Can!! I was very lucky to be acccepted with one of my friends, Alex Gudenkauf from St. Thomas More, to be an ambassador for NCYC. We introduced three sessions with greeting, prayer and introduction. Our last session was Father Tony Ricard, He has a group of young people our age who dance with Fr. Tony before he speaks. This group of youth invited us to dance with them for this session before we introduced him. They took the time to teach us how to groove with them. The spirit of Christ was so present and heavy in these few hours that it was kind of hard to breathe. Fr. Tony told us that if he is quiet for 20 minutes before he speaks to all of us is because he is scared and is asking the Lord to enter into him and speak though him. This is exactly what happened! He was on fire and so was everyone who heard him speak. This gave me a new outlook that if a priest that is so highly thought of still gets scared, as good has he is, then I can do great things too. In the past that is what has stopped me from talkng with others. – Lauren Ries, St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville
I have grown a lot in my faith in a very unique ways and I am taking back the passion of Jesus. I am going to spread this with others when I get back home and share the experiences I had connected to God with. I hope to always remember to thank the Lord for all he has given us, I need to always remember how blessed I am to be able to share my faith with so many others and I really wish other kids would come to NCYC and experience the closeness and friendship that I felt with Jesus these past days. NCYC helped my faith and love in Jesus grow profoundly. It is such an amazing opportunity to bond with other youth who all share the same strong love of Jesus, I could see the presence in Jesus in each person at this conference which is such a wonderful and amazing thing to experience. NCYC has helped me remember to always be thankful for everything God has blessed our beautiful lives with and to spread God’s love with every person we meet. – Katelyn Murhammer, St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville
I built a better relationship with God here at NCYC. I’m coming home knowing that my faith is something to be extremely proud about. I’m coming home knowing how to forgive people when I feel like they don’t deserve it and how important it is to not only forgive often but forgive myself for moments when I am weak. Just because you failed doesn’t make you a failure. The feeling I got at NCYC when I could feel God in the room gave me chills I have never felt that before. I also hope to remember my confession because Father said something I really needed to hear. It wasn’t a punishment, it was a gift for my penance. Everything is a Gift. I went into NCYC with a very high expectation and a need to go, I felt like I was losing connection with God and my faith was struggling no matter how much I prayed. That first night was the first night in two months I felt the Lord’s presence in me and it was strong in me. Every single day we were at NCYC I just felt him working through me and my love for my religion grew. I felt like every session spoke specifically to me, which did in fact make me very emotional. I’ve always been a proud Catholic but my pride for our church and God has only grown though this experience. I feel connected to my faith again and I could not be happier than I am now. I thank myself for going to NCYC – Claire Davis, St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville
I am currently in my junior year of high school. In November I had the amazing opportunity to attend NCYC for the second time. Some of my favorite memories of the trip include the long bus rides from Oskaloosa to Indianapolis and the cool trade items you get to bring home. My favorite part of the trip however is the large sessions. It is breathtaking being in a stadium of 25,000 people that have the same beliefs as you. I especially enjoy this trip because I come from a school that has a very small population of Catholics. This trip allows me to express my faith and not feel like an outcast. It also allows me to get to know those in my parish better. I think that my favorite part of all of the sessions was adoration. It is amazing to me how 25,000 kids can be singing and dancing one minute and so quiet that you can hear a pin drop the next. One of the things that has stuck with me since NCYC is that faith is not a destination, it is a journey. Sometimes as busy young people we think that after we go through confirmation it is over. We just sit through mass every Sunday and that is it. I think that we need to realize that if we truly open our hearts to God we always have room to learn and grow. We have to be able to put our faith at the top of our priority list and not at the bottom. – Elizabeth Moore, St. Mary Parish – Oskaloosa
Youths from Ss. Philip & James Parish – Grand Mound thought NCYC was a fantastic adventure that helped them grow spiritually.
I was in a session, and the speaker was talking about how she was spiraling out of control and had to get out of the situation she was in. She called her dad and said, “Dad, if you don’t come now, I may lose my soul.” After a long pause, her father said, “Okay” and he immediately started packing after he hung up the phone. He drove 2,000 miles to save his daughter. That story really moved me because it is so beautiful how her father loved her so much and my father loves me so much that they would do whatever it takes to save us. What’s even better is that the speaker and I have the same Father who loves us so much more than our mortal fathers do. He sent His son to sacrifice His life for us because He loves us so much. Even if you are in a bad place in your life, you are so incredibly loved that it is definitely possible to be as happy as you can be. – Bridget Schnell, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf
My favorite experience at NCYC was adoration. The whole stadium was silent and I could just feel the presence of the Holy Spirit moving within me. I hadn’t been to adoration since eighth grade, and I never got anything out of it. I just went through the motions of it. At NCYC, I opened my heart to the Holy Spirit and it is a feeling and experience I’ll never forget. – Lexie Ripslinger, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf
When Matt Maher was performing and it was only singing with him, it came to one verse and we completely overpowered him and he leaned back in his piano seat and stopped playing and singing. He was trying to make a deep experience for us; and instead we made one for him. – Eric Dilley, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf
My God moment was at “Contagiously Catholic” when they had individuals stand up and we prayed for their struggles. You could feel the power of 100’s of kids praying for one another. – Erin McGivern, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf
I really saw God the way he truly is through adoration. I really felt his presence and that moment was hands down one of the best moments in my life. – Mackenzie Kersten, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf
My favorite faith witness was experiencing true meaningful singing and praise from over 25,000 loving Catholics. Singing praises and truly praising God, I honestly found meaning to the words in the songs-they were inspirational to hear. Hearing true and emotional love for God was very touching and amazing to witness. – Claire Feeney, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish
NCYC was probably one of the best experiences of my life. It not only showed me a lot about how I can grow in my faith; but it also showed me that there are so many kids like me around the country who love the Lord and it’s just a really big family. – Cece Ballard, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish-Bettendorf