November 27, 2015

National Catholic Youth Conference 2015

Youths stand in long lines to experience God’s mercy in confession

Father Anthony Rowland, left, associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, gives absolution on Nov. 20 in the sacrament of penance to a NCYC attendee in a room set aside for the sacrament in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Anthony Rowland, left, associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Fishers, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese, gives absolution on Nov. 20 in the sacrament of penance to a NCYC attendee in a room set aside for the sacrament in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The line went far down a hallway. Then it went into a room where it snaked around like the line for a theme park roller coaster.

The youths attending the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) weren’t waiting patiently to buy food at one of the concession stands at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis or to take part in one of the popular activities in the conference’s exhibition hall.

They were in line to experience God’s mercy through the sacrament of penance. As the conference progressed from its start on Nov. 19 to its conclusion two days later, more and more of the 23,000 youths from across the country who attended NCYC were wearing stickers that read “I’m forgiven,” which they were given after taking part in the sacrament of penance.

“Going to confession [at NCYC] is just a way to go through the rest of the conference and feel like you’ve got a fresh start,” said Nathan Wellman of Canton, Ohio, after going to confession on Nov. 20. “You feel like you belong, like there’s nothing wrong in your soul.”

Dozens of priests and bishops filled a large conference room at the convention center to celebrate the sacrament of penance with conference attendees.

Many had signed up on a schedule for a specific time slot. Others volunteered on the spur of the moment. Extra purple stoles were on hand for the priests and bishops spending time in the confession room.

Many seminarians also helped guide those seeking to confess their sins to a priest or bishop who was free.

One of those seminarians was Matthew Long, a member of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis. He is a freshman at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary and Marian University, both in Indianapolis.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Long of the large number of people seeking to experience the sacrament of penance. “You can see on their face that they’re a little nervous when they come in. And then they’re smiling when they leave. And it’s definitely cool to see priests doing this. They’re there to console people through this.”

Although he has many years of priestly formation ahead of him, helping out in the confession room at NCYC was special for Long.

“It definitely encourages me,” he said. “This is something that I would like to do. This is something that I would want to see myself eventually doing at some point, God willing.”

When the conference was held in Indianapolis in 2011 and 2013, Father Michael Keucher was in Long’s position. He was a seminarian who volunteered in the confession room.

Ordained in June, Father Keucher experienced NCYC in a different way this year, celebrating the sacrament of penance with many conference attendees.

“It enlivens me and gives me a great sense of joy to see the pure desire that is alive in our young Church,” said Father Keucher, associate pastor of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. “There’s a great spirit here. There’s a great love for God that is very evident in the lives of these people. And, as a priest, I get to see it in a much more intimate way than before.”

Ordained last May in St. Louis, Dominican Father Raymond-Marie Bryce took a turn in the confession room and marveled at the line of people waiting to experience the sacrament of penance.

“That means that the Lord is quite at work, inspiring people to come and be reconciled, in some cases after months or even years,” said Father Raymond-Marie, associate pastor of the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington.

He expressed his hope that the priority that so many conference attendees placed on confessing their sins in the sacrament would make the upcoming Holy Year of Mercy spiritually fruitful for them.

“I think that people who have been away for a while and come back and realize how wonderful the sacrament can be will be all the more inclined to take advantage of what the Holy Father is providing us in the Year of Mercy,” Father Raymond-Marie said. “I’d like to see an upsurge of confessions myself, just for the benefits that accrue from the sacrament.”

Witnessing so many youths going to confession was also powerful for conference volunteer Mary Ann Kenney, a member of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, who handed “I’m forgiven” stickers to conference attendees.

“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s unbelievable. You can’t believe it until you see it.”

Nathan Chasey, 16, who attended NCYC from St. Cecilia Parish in Ames, Iowa, was equally amazed by the steady flow of people through the confession room.

“It’s astonishing,” he said. “Everyone is trying to have God forgive them for their sins. They feel confident to trust God that he will forgive them, no matter how bad they are.”

After experiencing God’s mercy himself in the sacrament of penance at the conference, Nathan said the change in his soul was palpable.

“I just feel like I’m walking on a cloud,” he said. “I feel so light. I feel new. It’s great.” †

 

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