December 11, 2009

National Catholic Youth Conference 2009

Church’s power to make Christ present is evident at National Catholic Youth Conference

By Benedictine Fr. Adrian Burke (Special to The Criterion)

It was so early the sun wasn’t up yet. We met the bus at 5 a.m. on Nov. 19 in the St. Meinrad Parish parking lot, ready to make the trip to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

As a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, I’ve served the parishes of St. Meinrad in St. Meinrad, St. Boniface in Fulda and St. Martin of Tours in Siberia for two tours of duty. From my experience, I realize that most people are not “morning people,” especially teenagers. Mysteriously, I am—well, at least after a healthy shot of java!

Maybe it’s because monks are used to getting up early, or maybe it’s because I was so excited to be going to NCYC, finally, after almost two years of fundraising and talking it up in our youth group, a fruitful branch of the young Church that calls itself “Teens Aware of Christ.”

Before the sun actually did rise, the spirits of our kids rose, and we had all become our usual talkative selves, even a little giddy with expectation. We were even eager to see what the Terre Haute kids would be like. We arrived at St. Benedict Parish a little after 8 a.m. to meet them and have Mass together before heading to Kansas City.

Mass was the perfect way to begin our pilgrimage. The Mass was concelebrated by myself, Father Rick Ginther, the pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes in Terre Haute, and Conventual Franciscan Father Joel Burget, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute.

We started the trip with Mass so the Son could truly rise on our day, and tune our minds and hearts to the real reason we were going to NCYC—to encounter Jesus Christ in his Church, to get to know him better, and perhaps to discover and

re-discover that “Christ Reigns”—the theme of this year’s NCYC—over us, from within us and through us for the sake of our salvation!

Faith Schaefer, our tri-parish youth minister, was at least as excited as I was that morning. So much planning and fund-raising was beginning to reach its fruition at last. I think we both expected a lot—and we got much more than either of us could have hoped.

After checking into our hotel and having some pizza, “Doc,” the bus driver, dropped us off in downtown Kansas City. We had to walk several city blocks in crisp, cold air to find our place in a throng of excited teens waiting to get into the Sprint Center. The young Church was eager to kick off NCYC 2009.

That evening, Bob McCarty, the executive director of Catholic Youth Foundation USA, made a surprise, dramatic entrance before giving the opening keynote address. Using a mountain climber’s rappelling rope, he descended from the rafters of the Sprint Center’s ceiling, dropping down through the big screens and lighting system before landing on the center stage amid great hoopla. In his address, he called us to center on Christ by delivering a strong message to the young Church: Show up, step up and step out!

Using his experience of hiking the Himalaya Mountains with his wife as an image of the call of Christ, he reminded us that conversion requires commitment. We can’t get where we want to go until we at least show up. Then, having shown up, we embrace Christ and allow his Spirit to help us to step up and do our part—to be his Church in a world hungry for hope.

Tom Booth was the music director for NCYC again this year, and his music leant an air of energy and enthusiasm as it nourished our devotion with lyrics full of Gospel passion. Many times during these songs, I closed my eyes and spoke alone with my God, surrounded by a crowd of thousands, many of whom were talking to Jesus, too. The music would move me to smile, to laugh and, yes, to cry a tear or two as the impact of the message reached my heart, giving me a greater sense of wholeness and mission.

I prayed for our kids as I’ve come to really love them and see in them the Christ who calls us to serve. I prayed in a spirit of gratitude, grateful to be there, to be Catholic. I was also thankful for my vocation as a priest and monk. And I was thankful for our kids, and having the privilege of knowing them, serving them and receiving from them so much goodness in return.

On Saturday, Nov. 21, to clearly show Christ present among us, we took time to adore Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. More than 21,000 strong, we prayed and sang before the Blessed Sacrament and then, having received the Benediction, we followed the Sacrament in procession for five city blocks from the Sprint Center to the convention center. It was amazing to behold!

Youth groups prayed the rosary, teenagers prayed litanies and others walked in reverent silence. It was almost apocalyptic. Seeing it, I became keenly aware of the Church’s power to make Christ present, standing strong in the midst of a secular world to proclaim the Gospel, all for Jesus!

I could go on and on—about the inspiring music, the teenagers who depicted biblical scenes on the main stage, the youths who told their stories of service and sacrifice, the keynote speakers who spoke with power and conviction, and the thousands of young people who listened and rejoiced, played and prayed with equal power and conviction.

Suffice it say that the young Catholic Church made me proud—proud to be part of it, proud to serve it, proud to be a monk and proud to be a priest. Above all, I am proud to be their brother, a fellow Catholic pilgrim and follower of Jesus Christ. I can’t wait for the next NCYC—November 2011—in Indianapolis!

May his reign be forever and ever, and let the young Church say, “Amen!”

(Benedictine Father Adrian Burke is a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. From 2004 to September 2009, he served as pastor of St. Meinrad Parish in St. Meinrad, St. Boniface Parish in Fulda and St. Martin of Tours Parish in Siberia.) †

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