November 10, 2017

‘Young Church’ to come alive as 20,000 youths head to National Catholic Youth Conference

Julia Olejko, left, and Violet Piskor, members of St. Mary Parish in Vermillion, Ohio, hold up a cross filled with prayers of parishioners during the general intercessions of the NCYC closing Mass on Nov. 21, 2015. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Julia Olejko, left, and Violet Piskor, members of St. Mary Parish in Vermillion, Ohio, hold up a cross filled with prayers of parishioners during the general intercessions of the NCYC closing Mass on Nov. 21, 2015. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

The scene always leaves Scott Williams with a feeling of awe and hope.

For three days, more than 20,000 youths from across the United States come together to share their faith at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC)—taking over Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis with a joy and a spirit that offers so much promise for the future and the present of the Church.

“Besides the closing liturgy—which nothing can compare to having 20,000 people celebrating Mass together—my favorite part of NCYC is when the gates open to Lucas Oil Stadium for any general session,” says Williams, the director of youth ministry for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“Young people are flooding into a single place to experience community in their Catholic faith. It reminds me that the young Church is alive, and young people are excited to participate in the faith community and to share in that faith with others.”

That energy and excitement will be on display again as the archdiocese hosts its fourth straight NCYC on Nov. 16-18. In anticipation of the event—which relies upon the efforts of nearly 1,000 adult volunteers—The Criterion asked Williams to share his insights about the effects of this biannual gathering on Catholic teenagers.

Q. From your experience in youth ministry, what overall impact does experiencing NCYC have on the youths who attend this conference?

A. “NCYC has proven to have what I call ‘the sling shot effect.’ It can be a jump-start to a new youth ministry program, a boost to a program that has been struggling, or a rocket effect for thriving programs. A youth ministry leader can gain more ground in the lives of their young people in these three short days that would take months or years otherwise. It is an outstanding opportunity to learn about the lives of their young people and to connect in new ways.”

Q. For youths who attend public schools or live in small communities where there are not a lot of Catholic youths present, what’s the impact on them of being part of more than 20,000 young people sharing their faith together?

A. “The Church all of a sudden seems a lot bigger, and young people don’t feel on their own. For many teens that go to public schools, it can be isolating at times being a Catholic. Participating in NCYC reminds them that they are not alone, and they have Catholic brothers and sisters all over the world. NCYC is a place to prayerfully celebrate the community as a young Church.”

Q. More than 1,500 teenagers from across central and southern Indiana will participate in this year’s NCYC. How do you see the youths’ involvement in NCYC having an impact on their parishes and even the archdiocese?

A. “Teens that go to this conference have a great experience there, but it’s mostly about what happens when they come home. While it might be in Indianapolis, it is a pilgrimage. Part of being on pilgrimage means returning home. I’ve seen new programs started by teens, teens taking new leadership roles and, most of all, empowerment to take part in their local community. However, it takes an invitation to make that a reality.

“My first year in youth ministry at St. Jude Parish [in Indianapolis], there wasn’t a strong high school youth ministry presence. There were about 15 teens that had signed up for NCYC. On that ‘pilgrimage’ to NCYC, they had a burning desire to start a high school youth group at our parish. The teens picked out the program, invited friends, hung up fliers, and once we had a team of adults, we started a youth group a few months later.”

Q. Adult volunteers are always needed for NCYC. If anyone is interested in volunteering, who should they contact? And what do you think volunteers gain from being part of this experience?

A. “There are a variety of ways to volunteer. We will deploy nearly 1,000 volunteers to make this a safe and successful event. Often the most difficult shifts to fill are outside. While it might be cold, we could use support keeping traffic moving, keeping 250 buses organized, and keeping crowds on the sidewalks. Many of our volunteers come back year after year because they love to see so many vibrant teens. They are also welcome to come back to join us at the closing liturgy. To volunteer, visit”

Q. What does it mean to you personally to be involved in NCYC, and what impact has it had on your faith?

A. “I have been involved with NCYC as a coordinator of youth ministry at St. Jude Parish, as program coordinator at the archdiocese, and leading our delegation of 1,500. This year, I’m chairing the local steering committee that oversees the aspects of the conference we organize locally. I’ve seen this conference from about every angle, and yet I’m always blown away by how amazing the young Church is. They inspire me to live my faith authentically, they encourage me to live in the moment, and they lead me in a beautiful prayer.” †

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