November 25, 2011

Thousands of teens explore priestly, religious vocations during NCYC

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage, right, plays Wii baseball with Madelyn Kelty of Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 18 in the National Catholic Youth Conference’s Vocations Village at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage, right, plays Wii baseball with Madelyn Kelty of Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 18 in the National Catholic Youth Conference’s Vocations Village at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Indianapolis wasn’t the destination for just the 23,000 youths and chaperones who participated in the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) from Nov. 17-19.

Also coming here were representatives of 76 religious orders to staff booths in the conference’s Vocations Village and thematic park known as “Victory Park.”

During the three days of the conference, thousands of teenagers went from booth to booth learning about the religious communities, their ministries and having fun along the way.

“I like to go around and see what all the different orders are about,” said Ellarose Stewart, 17, of Port Orange, Fla. “I’ve never known much about them all. And now I can explore them.”

Amelia Bickler, 15, of Williston, N.D., explored Vocations Village at the same time as Ellarose.

“It’s eye opening,” Amelia said. “You don’t really realize how many different vocations are devoted to helping spread the word of God. It’s just amazing.

“I never knew that there were so many people interested in [vocations]. I thought that it was just a few, select people.”

Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister Angela Gertsema was like many of the youths who toured the Vocations Village during NCYC when she went to the conference in 1999 in St. Louis.

She had never heard of the religious community or its foundress, Mother Clelia Merloni, before attending that NCYC gathering.

But after hearing a presentation by one of the order’s members and receiving some literature about its foundress, Sister Angela stepped onto the path that led to where she is now—teaching at St. Raphael School in Bridgeport, Conn. She professed her final vows last year.

“That was the opportunity that I got to learn about Mother Clelia,” said Sister Angela in a Nov. 19 telephone interview with The Criterion. “And I only got literature. It wasn’t like someone sat down and told me about her.

“It just changed my life because I realized that I didn’t need to be afraid of a vocation. And I found a community where I really felt God was calling me. I’m very happy here.”

Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Sister Bridget Smith was one of the members of the order who staffed their booth in Indianapolis this year.

She was glad to see that there was a large increase in the number of communities at NCYC from the last conference held in 2009 in Kansas City.

“The word is out. If you need vocations in the Church, you can’t sit back on your laurels,” Sister Bridget said. “We have to be out there. For a lot of vocation directors, it’s their first time here. I tell them, ‘We’re here to cultivate and plant that seed [of vocations].’ ”

Taking a break from playing Wii baseball with some youths at the booth of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Religious Life and Vocations, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz of Anchorage, Alaska was pleased with the number of orders represented in Vocations Village and the many teenagers learning about them.

“I think it’s a sign that the Spirit is really working in our young people,” Archbishop Schwietz said. “And it’s certainly a big encouragement for the bishops who have been working hard to create a positive atmosphere for vocations within the parishes and within families.”

Handing out literature and having conversations with priests and religious brothers and sisters is one way to nurture vocations. Praying for them is another.

That happened during NCYC in a holy hour of eucharistic adoration for vocations on Nov. 18.

“The Lord has created each and every one of us a destiny, a purpose,” said Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City in a homily during the holy hour. “[He wants us] not only to become saints, but to become the unique saints that God calls each one of us to be along whichever path the Lord has prepared for us, utilizing our unique gifts and talents and opportunities—all of those things which shape and form our lives—and placing them at the service of the Lord.”

Logan Patrick, 18, of Des Moines, Iowa, had a personal reason for praying for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament at NCYC.

“I’m a senior in high school and I don’t know what I want to do,” Logan said. “I’ve been praying for vocations lately. It helps you out with what you’re trying to do.”

Seeing all the youths learning about and praying for vocations made transitional Deacon Jerry Byrd happy.

“There are 23,000 young people here,” said Deacon Byrd, who is scheduled to be ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on June 2. “That’s the future of our Church right there.

“How many priests will be called from that group? How many sisters will be called from that group? We don’t know. But my guess is that it’s a lot.” †

 

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