Teens deepen faith in trip to national conference

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The Super Bowl has been played at the Georgia Dome and Lucas Oil & NRG Stadiums, and is often talked about as if it is the most important event to take place there. But the National Catholic Youth Conference is the greatest gathering to ever happen in these particular venues. For NCYC the space is transformed into a distinctly Catholic setting and participants are invited to encounter Christ, experience the church, and be empowered for modern-day discipleship.

NCYC used to move from place to place. In recent years, its location has remained in Indianapolis. NCYC is not about the destination, but about the experience. Lives of teenagers are changed through their encounter with the Lord at NCYC. Most notable are the powerful testimonies from Catholic speakers and church leaders, inspirational music and rich celebrations of prayer and sacraments.

Two months ago, 27 teens and adults from Alaska went to NCYC and experienced the Catholic Church with bishops, cardinals, a variety of Catholic speakers and musicians and 22,000 teens from around the country. The time was filled with opportunities for youth to bond and explore their faith outside the normal surroundings of their daily lives in Alaska. The theme was “Called” and teens were invited to recognize where the Lord is calling them.

Upon arrival, we enjoyed a self-guided walking tour of the area. The walkabout ended at St. John the Evangelist Parish, where a visiting priest saw us enter and invited us to join him for Mass. It was a spontaneous, simple and intimate celebration that helped create a mindset for the entire conference. It provided a fitting perspective for the reason we were at NCYC.

The next day began with time in the Thematic Village — a large space that combines vendor exhibits with active service, artistic, and recreational opportunities and catechetical and educational experiences for teens. The Thematic Village is a unique experience that gets mentioned over-and-over again by teens afterwards. It is there that they meet people and trade gifts that are unique to each one’s home state.

Later, we gathered with some other groups for Mass with Archbishop Etienne. The Mass was a profound experience for the teens, who obviously entered deeply into the celebration, as observed in the responses of their words and actions. Their engaged attitudes continued as we all knelt together in the hallway of the convention center during a eucharistic procession, bringing the presence of the Lord prayerfully into the center’s chapel from a church across the street.

Several times during NCYC everyone gathered in the stadium for dynamic experiences. The first night featured Chris Stefanick, who inspiringly said to the teens, “We feel so small in this world, so insignificant in this universe. I think God looks down from heaven and says, ‘You are huge next to all this.’ As big as a mountain is, can it know someone? As big as an ocean is, can it make a choice? As bit as a galaxy is, can it choose to love? No, but you can…You’re a huge deal!” The stadium experiences were tremendous and also included compline led by Benedictine monks, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and reconciliation. During the lively closing Mass, Archbishop Jose Gomez talked about the power of prayer and said during his homily, “When I was your age, I made a decision…to spend some time in daily prayer, and it had made an extra difference in my life.”

God calls teens through the simplest moments of their lives, but experiences spent apart from the routines of everyday living, such as NCYC, sometimes help to awaken a response to God in new ways. The next NCYC will be Nov. 21-23, 2019. We’ve already begun to talk about it with our middle school daughter. She is very excited and motivated with the hope of attending in her mind. I encourage parents and parish leaders to also begin the conversation now with youth in grades 7-9 about the opportunity to experience NCYC.

The writer is director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Anchorage Archdiocese.

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