November 18, 2016

ICYC offers young people the chance to come together and grow in their faith

Three members of the Archdiocesan Youth Council show their enthusiasm in reacting to the antics and energy of the musical group Popple during the 2016 Indiana Catholic Youth Conference at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Nov. 6. Jenna Geise of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, left, Ethan Huntzinger of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, and Matt Voglewede of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg join in the fun. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Three members of the Archdiocesan Youth Council show their enthusiasm in reacting to the antics and energy of the musical group Popple during the 2016 Indiana Catholic Youth Conference at the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Nov. 6. Jenna Geise of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, left, Ethan Huntzinger of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, and Matt Voglewede of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg join in the fun. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

If you were ever hoping to get a glimpse into the hearts of Catholic teenagers, it was right there on display on a signboard at the Indiana Catholic Youth Conference (ICYC) on Nov. 6.

Set up in the midst of the conference’s theme park area at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, the signboard was a place where about 600 Catholic youths from across the archdiocese had the opportunity to complete this thought, “Life is at its best …”

The answers included, “when I’m with friends,” “when I’m giving back,” “when I’m with family,” “when I pray,” “when I make someone smile,” and “when I receive the Eucharist.”

There were also these responses: “when I’m laughing,” “when I’m at peace with myself,” “when I’m dancing” and “right after confession and anytime I’m in eucharistic adoration.”

While those answers provide a sense of joy and promise concerning the lives and faith of Catholic youths, the conference’s keynote speaker strived to share a message of hope for teenagers who sometimes have to face life at its worst.

“I know some of you here are feeling real suffering,” said Emily Wilson, a Catholic musician and speaker from California who travels around the world sharing her faith witness.

“Life at home may be difficult. Your parents may be going through a divorce. You may not be getting along with your siblings. You may be struggling with depression, struggling with bullying, struggling with feeling alone in your life, struggling with addiction.”

Wilson then shared a defining struggle from her life.

‘God, I just need you’

“A little over 10 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” Wilson said. “I came to a big crisis in my faith where I was like, ‘Lord, you promise your goodness and your mercy and your love and abundance. But what about this suffering thing? Why does my mom have to suffer if you say you are good, if you say you are loving?’ ”

To help her through that difficult time, Wilson said she relied upon the example of a woman in the Bible who was suffering great pain, a woman who reached out to touch Christ’s garments, believing that effort would heal her.

“In the middle of my suffering, in the middle of my pain, I reached out as this woman did to God. I didn’t understand why my mom had to suffer with cancer, but what I did know as a young person of faith was that God wanted to walk with me through it.

“In my loneliness, in my struggling and my suffering, the only thing I found to be the key to moving forward, to finding any hope, was being like this woman, reaching out to God and saying, ‘God, I’m struggling, my family is struggling, and I just need you.’ ”

Wilson paused and looked at the crowd before adding, “We’re all here because of the living God who comes to say, ‘I can help you. I have the power to heal. I have the love to walk with you, be with you and stand by your side in the middle of your suffering.’

“It was only by reaching out to God in the greatest moments of suffering in my life that I found any consolation, any hope and any peace. Some of you have come here searching for hope and for peace. Jesus is the answer to that hope and that peace. And we can get that peace and hope in our lives by reaching out to him.”

Coming together

Wilson’s talk—her second of the day—led to two of the most spiritually meaningful parts of the conference, eucharistic adoration and Mass.

The youths’ deep reverence during adoration and Mass was as uplifting as the giddy jubilation they showed while responding to the antics of the musical group Popple earlier in the day.

Conference activities also included playing games, taking part in the sacrament of reconciliation, running through inflatable challenges, and checking different displays about vocations, the pro-life movement and care for creation. The conference attracted youths from 65 parishes, including two from the Lafayette Diocese.

“I’ve really liked it,” said Sarah Reams, 15, a member of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville. “It’s everybody of the same faith—but from all walks of life—coming together. So it’s really cool.”

That feeling was shared by 13-year-old Carlos Lemus, one of about 50 youths from St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, who attended the conference: “It’s good. They teach you what to do to help you get closer to God in your life.”

Reid Carter made that closer step to God during the conference by taking advantage of the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation.

“I realized there was some stuff I had done that I needed to get off my chest to be a better person,” said Reid, 18, one of nine youths from Holy Family Parish in New Albany at the conference. “I just wanted to talk to someone about it.

“It’s the first conference I’ve been to, and I’ve really enjoyed the vibe. People are open to sharing things and working to better their faith.”

Searching for meaningful relationships

The teenagers’ reactions matched the hopes of the coordinator of the youth conference.

“We strive to create an environment where the ‘young Church’ can have fun, interact, pray and dig deeper into their relationships with their peers and their youth leaders,” said Scott Williams, coordinator of youth ministry for the archdiocese.

“The youths were also able to dive deeper into a true and authentic relationship with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, witness his mercy through reconciliation, and celebrate our oneness with him in the holy Mass.”

In his six years in youth ministry, Williams has learned that young people thirst for close connections, including with Christ.

“Teens today are mostly searching for authentic relationships,” he said. “In the digital world that they have grown up in, face-to-face conversations are more the exception than the norm. God designed us to be a social being, and authentic relationships are key to knowing our Creator.”

The youth conference enhanced those relationships, Williams said.

“The continual theme that radiated through the day was joy. You could feel the energy and the joy that these young people brought to the day.” †

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