A group of enthusiastic Alaskan teens joined an estimated 20,000 youth from all across the United States for the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana Nov. 16-19.
“This is the premier Catholic youth ministry event in the country that happens on a regular schedule,” said Matthew Beck, the director of youth and young adult ministry for the Anchorage Archdiocese. “And it’s a lot of fun.”
The Alaska group included 19 teens, seven chaperones and Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne. The Alaskans came from three parishes in the Anchorage Archdiocese and two parishes in the Fairbanks Diocese.
The conference, replete with Masses, speakers, workshops and music, was sponsored by the youth ministry arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s held every two years, with a conference for adult youth leaders held in the off year.
The youth conference is typically attended by upwards of 40 bishops from around the country.
It was the second trip to NCYC for 16-year-old Alexa Leingang of St. Michael’s. Her first trip was sponsored by her parish’s Knights of Columbus.
After that experience, Leingang was eager to go back again this year.
“It was fantastic,” the high school junior said of the conference. “It’s super eye-opening. The most memorable thing for me was eucharistic adoration. There were probably 25,000 kids in a room and there was dead silence during adoration. It was so impressive.”
Leingang said she tried to persuade others to sign up this year — “even my non-Catholic friends” — and five from St. Michael’s attended this year.
This year’s theme centered on how youth are called to live out their Catholic faith across the country — “from sea to shining sea” — as well as to consider the obligation to serve one’s neighbors around the world.
Beck said the conference is aimed at “igniting the faith” in the young. The packed schedule included daily Mass, opportunities for confession, adoration and the rosary, complemented by dynamic breakout speakers and socializing.
The bishops who attend make themselves completely available to the kids, said Beck, and help “make youth feel they’re empowered to go back to their parishes and serve.”
A key component of the conference is the thematic village, Beck said, where all kinds of activities bring kids together. These range from games to live music, vendors and Catholic publishers from around the country, with an emphasis on service projects.
This year, in partnership with Catholic Relief Services and Rise Against Hunger, the conference brought youth together to learn about the people of Burkina Faso and the hunger they face, to reflect on the Catholic call to address hunger, and to have fun packaging thousands of meals that will help save lives.
Beck has been in his archdiocesan role since August 2015. After serving as a parish youth minister for 21 years, as well as a parish administrator at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and a parish life director at St. Michael’s, he finds his parish experience helps him to “coordinate youth ministry activities in partnership with the parishes.”
Through his position, he provides leadership training for adults involved in youth ministry, and training for youth in peer ministry, and is available for parish retreats, including one he did recently in Dutch Harbor.
“A big part of my job is forming adults as youth leaders,” he said.
His plans for the future include a leadership summit next fall in which parish leaders can discuss what specific skills they would like their teens to develop in serving the parish. He also hopes to organize a mission trip for junior high students.