November 27, 2015

National Catholic Youth Conference 2015

Youths share how faith makes a dramatic difference in their lives

Members of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis, Kennedy Phillips, left, and Jabie Jones-Gates pose for a photo together during the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on Nov. 19-21. (Photos by John Shaughnessy)

Members of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis, Kennedy Phillips, left, and Jabie Jones-Gates pose for a photo together during the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on Nov. 19-21. (Photos by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

They hoped to stand out, to fit in, to make someone laugh, to get a smile.

And so, many of the 23,000 teenagers at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis on Nov. 19-21 wore fun and whimsical headgear—donning halos, corn husks, lampshades, cow ears, Viking horns, lobster claws, a cooked turkey, and even a slice of pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

Yet for all their comical efforts to create a distinctive look, the youths left their most lasting—and unique—impression when they responded to an informal invitation to talk about the importance of their Catholic faith in their lives.

At 18, Star DeRepentigny shared her story of finding a home in the Church, after years of not feeling wanted as a child who was passed from one foster home to another.

“I wasn’t born and raised Catholic,” said Star, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Seaford, Del., in the Wilmington Diocese. “I was in and out of foster homes, and I didn’t feel I belonged.

“Faith wasn’t a part of my life until I was adopted when I was 8. The family I was adopted into is Catholic. And the Church became my home, too. I’m grateful for it. All my friends are from church. My faith gives me high morals. And even when I fall short, I know God loves me.”

It’s a lesson that 16-year-old Alicia Paliza also learned as she struggled with depression in her early teen years. A white halo circled above her dark hair as she talked about finding light in her darkness.

“My faith has become a lot more important to me over the past three years,” said Alicia, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Lancaster, Calif., in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“Being with people in youth ministry at Sacred Heart has helped me a lot. It’s given me a new way to see God. It’s made me happier to see God wasn’t a textbook or a series of prayers. He’s become more of a friend who loves me. He’s someone I can go to—no matter what happens.”

That connection with God is part of the foundation of the friendship between Jabie Jones-Gates and Kennedy Phillips, both 16 and members of St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis.

“My faith is my guide to live my life,” Jabie said. “It guides me in each choice I make and the direction I want to go. I feel lost without my faith. It’s like having another family for you.”

Kennedy continued that theme of faith and family: “Being in a Catholic church, you know everyone has your back. It’s really important for me to be in the youth programs at church. I go to Mass every Sunday. You know that God is always there for you. And you get to go to confession when you need to get something off your mind.”

For 17-year-old Mireille Martinez, her commitment to her Catholic faith has led to a deeper commitment to help others.

“My religion isn’t something I just look forward to on Sunday, it’s the foundation of my life,” said Mireille, a member of St. Edward Parish in Keizer, Ore., in the Portland Archdiocese. “It’s allowed me to help out in the community. I help at a hospital and a clinic for people who don’t have insurance. It’s a way of ‘paying it forward’ for me.”

Standing next to Mireille, fellow parish member Enrique Flores shared his need to have God in his life at 14: “When I struggle, it’s helpful to know you can depend on God to be there for you, and to know that someone is watching over you.”

As she walked through the conference’s theme park, Megan Milroy drew a number of laughs and smiles as she wore a gold-toned lampshade—complete with small tassels on its bottom edge—over her head. She also shed some light on the challenges that face her fellow teenagers, and how welcoming God into their lives and relying on their faith can make such a difference.

“There are so many influences, both negative and positive, at our age. And we’re susceptible to them,” said Megan, a member of St. Marcus Parish in Clear Lake, Minn., in the St. Cloud Diocese.

“At this age, we’re trying to figure out who we are. My Catholic faith has given me my values. It has kept me grounded in who I am and who I want to become.” †

 

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