Alaska teens encounter Jesus at National Catholic Youth Conference

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The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) is one of the most incredible events to have ever taken place in Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts and many popular events such as the Super Bowl. On November 22, the first night of this year’s NCYC, Pope Francis spoke to the crowd of over 18,000 in a video address that kicked off the 3-day event. The pope affirmed their missionary hearts and encouraged young people to be an outgoing church that goes towards others, sharing the good news of Christ with those in need of hearing and experiencing it.

The vision that Pope Francis shares is of a church that is always on the move, filled with zeal in helping the world know and encounter Jesus. His message illuminated the NCYC theme, which focused on young people being blessed, broken, and sent forth to share their faith with others. At NCYC, young people were invited to recognize how they become what is received in the Eucharist and live as the church in today’s world.

Twenty-eight teens and adults from Alaska traveled to NCYC this year, including two priests, parish youth ministry leaders, parents, and teens from six different parishes. Fr. Michael Shields, Pastor at St. Michael Parish in Palmer, shared, “I went as a skeptic, but after being there to witness more than 18,000 teens adoring the Blessed Sacrament and going to confession, I was impressed. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I’ll be back in 2021.”

Recommended by teens from his archdiocese, Archbishop Jackels and archdiocesan leaders of Dubuque collected a $10.00 solidarity fee from each NCYC participant from their archdiocese. A large portion of that solidarity fund was given to the Archdiocese of Anchorage to sponsor teens from Alaska attending NCYC. Every teen benefited in some way from the sponsorship. The fund was distributed to reduce the overall cost for each person attending from Alaska. Also, several local parishes in Alaska stepped up and either sponsored or held fundraisers to defer the cost for their parish’s participants to attend NCYC.

NCYC looks a bit different each time that it takes place, but includes typically large general sessions with everyone gathered together in the stadium. Activities in that venue this year included a concert with For King & Country and a keynote address by Mark Hart. The papal nuncio was also present and encouraged the young people to be courageous in living their faith. On Saturday night, participants celebrated the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe with Archbishop Charles Thompson of Indianapolis, many of his brother bishops from other dioceses, and hundreds of priests from all over the country that traveled to be with the teens at NCYC.

In addition to the events in the stadium, several activities take place in the adjacent convention center. There is an interactive thematic village in one of the large halls, where young people meet other Catholic teens, talk with bishops from all over the country, participate in service projects, buy Catholic t-shirts and memorabilia, meet and speak with Catholic college admission counselors, sing Catholic Karaoke, assemble food packages for the homeless, and play organized games.

There is also an on-site chapel in the convention center that includes the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with adoration throughout NCYC. A beautiful moment to witness is the solemn Eucharistic procession by hundreds of people from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church into the convention center chapel on Thursday afternoon. The line for reconciliation that takes place in a space next to the chapel is always long but moves quickly with 50 or more priests hearing confessions.

The workshops at NCYC cover a variety of topics, from prayer to morality and are presented by well-known Catholic speakers, writers, and musicians from all around the country. Teens often refer to speakers and musicians that are there as their Catholic idols and line up to meet them in person, buy their music and books, and get their signatures.

NCYC is a conference of choices. It’s impossible to do everything that’s offered, but parish groups plan each day accordingly and participate in the activities and events that work best for them. The conference is designed for smaller groups to move from place to place and grow in faith together. There is something for everyone.

NCYC is a faith-filled and incredible experience. Jessica Salao is a high school sophomore that attended NCYC with the group from Holy Cross Parish. She writes, “Since we live in Alaska, we don’t have big conventions where we get to meet so many new people and attend all those different workshops and activities. Being able to fly down and do all that new stuff and getting to strengthen my relationship with God was amazing! It impacted my life greatly. Going to the different workshops and listening to the talks helped me learn new and different ways to strengthen my faith and to continue with it throughout my life.”

Time after time, teens return home and comment about how NCYC helps them experience the Catholic Church in a new way. Salao continues by stating, “ I think someone should consider going to NCYC because it’s an experience that you will never forget. You get to grow in your faith while still having lots of fun. You get to meet so many people that share the same faith with you and bond with them through that. You also get to learn more about faith and how to use it more in your daily life and how to put it into action.”

The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) sponsors the biennial event that is regularly held on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The NFCYM is the largest network of Catholics ministering to young people. The NFCYM seeks to empower young people to be missionary disciples by equipping pastoral leaders, youth ministers, parents, and others as they accompany youth to be Christian witnesses in their daily and ever-changing lives. NCYC is particularly effective in raising teens as peer ministers.

Currently, NCYC is held every other year, but will become an annual event beginning in 2022, when it will take place in Long Beach, California. NCYC returns to Indianapolis on November 18 – 20, 2021, and will feature Sr. Mariam Heidland and Brian Greenfield as conference emcees. The theme for 2021 is “Ablaze”, and participants will most certainly be ignited as lights of Christ.

I’ve accompanied each of my daughters to NCYC, and it has been a powerful experience of faith together. I invite all parents to consider joining me in bringing our high school teens in 2021. I encourage pastors and youth ministry coordinators to identify teen leaders in your parishes and plant seeds of interest by inviting them to join you at NCYC 2021. Children that are currently in Grade 7 or higher will be the perfect age for NCYC 2021.

For more information about NCYC and Anchorage’s participation, please contact Matthew Beck, Director of Evangelization & Discipleship at mbeck@caa-ak.org or 907-297-7734. Beck also currently serves as the Region 12 Representative and Chair of the NFCYM Board of Directors.


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