November 25, 2011

Teenagers celebrate their faith during opening session of NCYC

Youth animators perform during the Thursday night opening session of the National Catholic Youth Conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 17. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Youth animators perform during the Thursday night opening session of the National Catholic Youth Conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 17. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

As soon as the doors opened, three teenage girls rushed toward the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, wanting to reach front-row seats for the event they had been waiting for months to happen.

Maggie Johnson, Alexis Black and Rachel Kennedy nudged past other youths who had arrived 90 minutes early for the opening session of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on the evening of Nov. 17.

The three friends raced past seats that soon would be filled with 23,000 other youths, many of them proudly wearing a wonderfully crazy assortment of headwear that included white, feathery halos, flashing pink, green and blue glow-in-the-dark headbands, and hats that showcased the heads of cows, sharks, frogs, chickens and horses.

Finally, the three girls from Illinois—wearing headwear that looked like a Chicago-style pepperoni pizza—made it to the front-row seats for an event that would be part rock concert, part church revival, and all a strong reminder or revelation that the youth of the Catholic Church thirst for and respond to a lively, intense and heartfelt faith experience that matches their love of God, and their longing to be part of a community that draws them even closer to him.

“I’m hoping to get a deeper experience with God and feel the connection,” said Alexis, 16, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Naperville,Ill., in the Archdiocese of Chicago, along with Maggie and Rachel.

“I want to get in touch with my faith more,” noted Maggie, who is 16.

“I’m hoping to make new friends and get deeper in my religion,” Rachel, 15, added.

Knowing that longing in Catholic teenagers, emcee and entertainer ValLimar Jansen used the opening night two-hour session to tap into the youths’ desire to sing, dance, sway, clap, chant, laugh, reflect and celebrate their faith together in moments that ranged from the silly to the serious.

“We are all members of what I call the love tribe,” Jansen exclaimed in a voice that radiated with joy, humor and warmth throughout the evening. “Because they will know we are Christians by our love.”

The longing of Catholic teenagers also showed in the faith-sharing moments by two of the 82 youth performers, known as animators, who sang and danced with Jansen.

Annie Quigley, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, told the audience that the conference was a way to “become much closer to Christ.”

Charlie Wessel, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, talked about the importance of Catholic teenagers living their Christian values.

The evening’s motivation talk came from Bob McCarty, executive director of the National Catholic Federation for Youth Ministry. Calling the youths “a wonderful sign of the presence of God” and “a hopeful sign for the Catholic Church,” McCarty also challenged the teenagers to embrace the conference‘s theme, “Called to Glory.”

“When you are feeling overwhelmed, when you’re feeling lost, when you’re feeling confused, ‘Come to me,’ Jesus said,” McCarty declared.

It all flowed toward the evening’s most memorable scene—when Jansen led the 23,000 teenagers to a powerful moment that had them dancing, clapping and singing “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, yes, Lord!”

She then closed with a plea to the teenagers to “make a connection with Christ” during the weekend, and share “the love of Christ” with each other.

From their front row seats, the experience surpassed the high expectations of Alexis, Rachel and Maggie.

“It was awesome!” Alexis said as Rachel and Maggie nodded enthusiastically. The faces of the three friends all glowed with joy. †


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