The call to holiness is for everybody, but God has also planned a way for each person to answer that call for the good of the whole Church.
Throngs of young Catholics from all over North America heard that message in numerous ways at the 2017 National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis.
Among them were young people from Sacred Heart parish in Eldon, along with Christie Jung, their parish youth minister. Here is what some of them had to say about the experience:
“NCYC brought me closer to my faith in ways I never thought I could be,” said Addie Davis.
“It was wonderful to hear people’s stories about the Lord and the encouragement to follow Him,” said Emma Jarrett.
“It was amazing seeing how many other Catholic teens there were!” stated Anna Jung.
“NCYC was a great time and new experience that helped me expand my knowledge and love of the faith,” said Brayden Wickham.
“The Lucas Oil Stadium went from a wild rock concert to praise Jesus, to complete silence when Jesus entered in the Blessed Sacrament,” said Christie Jung.
“Imagine 25,000 teenagers moved to silence and fixed on Jesus,” she added. “The memory still brings great emotion.”
Ann Goosey, director of religious education at Holy Spirit parish in Centralia, asked young people from that parish how their NCYC experience had changed them.
“The conference made me want to better my relationship with God,” stated Mallory Smith. “My prayer has increased, and I am finding my place with Him.”
“I realized after the conference that there are so many Catholic teenagers out there, just like us,” said Hannah Pendergrast. “I also want to better my relationship with God after NCYC.”
“I have learned about the art of discernment,” said Anna Romine. “I want to better include God in my decision-making process, whether the decision is big or small.”
“NCYC made me feel like my relationship with God had grown,” said Caroline Million. “I felt at peace with myself, and my faith was definitely stronger than it was before the conference.”
The young people talked about their NCYC experienced at a Dec. 3 “Stockholders Dinner” for Centralia parishioners who had invested in helping them get to Indianapolis.
“This was our first time sending youth to NCYC but not our last!” Ms. Goosey stated.
Debbie Bolin, campus minister at Sacred Heart High School in Sedalia, was amazed by Sunday’s Mass in the stadium.
“It may be just the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, but this was no ordinary Mass!” she said. “There were hundreds of priests and deacons, 14 bishops and an archbishop who truly spoke to the young Church. He told us that the Church’s future looks very bright, sending forth the energy of 25,000 teens and young adults. And let the Church say Amen!”
Priests from the Jefferson City diocese included Fathers Christopher Aubuchon, Paul Clark, Joseph Corel, Joshua Duncan, Daniel Luecknotte, Gregory Oligschlaeger, Mark Smith and David Veit.
Also attending from the diocese were Deacons John Hill, Chad Lewis and Philip Ordonio.
Most of the priests spent some time hearing confessions and granting absolution.
Fr. Veit, pastor of St. Patrick parish in Rolla, stated on Facebook that being an agent of reconciliation at NCYC was a moving experience, and that he would continue praying by name for those strangers whose confessions he had heard.
An avid hunter, he added: “NCYC was so good that until I saw two does running in an empty corn field, I had completely forgotten it was still deer season back home!”
Fr. Corel, vicar general for the diocese and pastor of St. Andrew parish in Holts Summit, said it was an honor and blessing to be with so many great young people and loving, caring adults at NCYC.
“I’m blessed to call these men brothers and serve with them!” he said of his fellow priests.
Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator John DeLaporte said NCYC helps young people and their chaperones throughout the diocese connect with each other and experience the Church at a much broader level.
NCYC also challenges them personally in many ways to grow in in their relationship with God, said Jose Lopez, diocesan events coordinator.
The 2017 theme — “Called” in English, “Llamado” in Spanish — came across loudly, clearly and consistently.
“You heard testimony from all of these people in all of the keynotes and breakout sessions, about how they’ve been called in different ways and how they’ve answered that call,” said Mr. Lopez.
“It definitely challenges the young people to find and act upon His call on a personal level.”
Mr. Lopez noted that those conversations continue to take place among young people, their peers, their youth ministers and the other adults in their lives.
Identity and community
Mr. DeLaporte pointed out that NCYC is set up to engage people at a diocesan level.
“The way a parish attends NCYC is through a diocese,” he said. “We handle all the big-picture logistical stuff, then the parishes sign their teens up and handle the fundraising.”
In this way, NCYC helps create a greater sense of Catholic identity throughout each diocese.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on what diocese you’re from and pride in your region of the country,” said Mr. DeLaporte. “It brings a whole sense of identity and cohesion and unity and community.”
Long before traveling with the teens, Mr. Lopez put in countless hours arranging transportation, taking care of registration, securing hotel accommodations and handling other logistical concerns.
In the process, he got to experience a great deal of friendship and camaraderie among organizers and participants from the diocese.
“Yes, it takes hours and hours to help get everything ready,” said Mr. Lopez. “But then you get to see the holiness and diversity and beauty of the Church, so it’s definitely worth it.”
“Jesus always shows up”
As in years past, Shannon Cerneka, music teacher and youth minister at St. Peter parish in Fulton, participated in NCYC as part of Oddwalk Ministries.
He and Orin Johnson of St. Louis, who make up the Catholic musical, comedic and evangelizing duo, served in a variety of roles at the event, including a Saturday morning performance from the main stage before thousands in Lucas Oil Stadium.
They also hosted the Music and Message Stage and led the music at two Masses.
“Jesus never disappoints,” Mr. Cerneka stated in a blog this week. “Whether Jesus’ presence looks like love, mercy, joy, peace, forgiveness or some other virtue, Jesus always shows up ... always ... and NCYC is no exception.”
Mr. Cerneka said the young people who choose to come to NCYC are incredible.
“These teens show up ready and open, having already been through months of preparation in the form of fundraising, prayer and community-building. They come into the experience expecting to see Jesus in the sacraments and in one another, and that’s exactly what happens.
“They walk in the door, ready to be swept up in the Spirit, and they are,” he said.
Mr. Cerneka pointed out that NCYC could not happen without the many months of hard work by “a relatively tiny group of mostly unknown people.”
“NCYC rocks because of the dedication of a small army of dedicated folks ... and Jesus, of course!” he said.
Helping to organize NCYC participation is part of the Jefferson City diocese’s renewed commitment to promoting faith, family and outreach, as called for in Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos’ pastoral plan, “Christ’s Call ... Our Response.”