November 29, 2013

National Catholic Youth Conference 2013

Dear NCYC participants: Thank you for a weekend I will never forget

By Briana Stewart

Briana StewartTwo years ago was the first time I had ever heard of the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). It was being hosted here in Indianapolis, and everywhere I went I heard clips of conversation about the three-day celebration.

“NCYC is so much fun!”

“I am so excited for NCYC this year!”

“NCYC changes your life.”

I didn’t understand then how teenagers—normal, social, sometimes irresponsible teenagers—could be so excited about their faith.

I didn’t understand the crazy hats and funky costumes that many of the participants wore.

I didn’t understand how 23,000 teens would want to come together from all across the nation to celebrate Catholicism.

Now, I understand.

After attending the 2013 National Catholic Youth Conference, I have been enlightened.

I arrived Thursday afternoon at St. John the Evangelist Church for the opening Mass for youths from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. I had been looking forward to this event since I was told that I would be attending NCYC as an intern for The Criterion.

The church was gorgeous with high-arched ceilings. Twenty or so priests sat near the front and concelebrated the Mass, all in white. And the large statues placed around the church enthralled me. But there was something even more spectacular that took my breath away.

The reverence and participation demonstrated by the more than 1,000 teenagers and adults in attendance were riveting. I would have expected the subdued silence from an older generation and the enthusiastic singing from children, but the teens succeeded in doing both. I was pleasantly surprised and grateful.

During Mass, I usually refrain from singing because nobody else is singing, but for once I could look around and see everyone joining in song. Our voices filled the church. I loved it.

The Mass captivated me, especially Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin’s homily.

I was anxious all during Mass because I was looking forward to the eucharistic procession after it from the church to the Indiana Convention Center. I had only seen photos from the previous procession in 2011, but I already knew it was going to be a magical moment.

Criterion reporter Natalie Hoefer and I shuffled to the back of the church to snap photos of the procession. As we stepped outside into the rain, my level of awe increased tenfold when I saw the thousands of teens waiting to catch a glimpse of the Eucharist.

Then the procession began as I scampered about, holding an umbrella over Natalie as she took shot after shot. The streets fell silent as priests came out in two’s and three’s, steadily singing “Ubi Caritas.”

Finally, Archbishop Tobin arrived, holding the monstrance under a red velvet canopy supported by four seminarians. As we entered the Indiana Convention Center, I bid Natalie farewell, feeling much too uncomfortable still standing as the Eucharist continued to come closer.

Once I kneeled down by the doors and watched Archbishop Tobin pass, I cried. I’m not sure why, but the sight and the singing were just so beautiful that tears streamed down my face.

After the procession, the mood in the halls lightened, and kids were getting ready for the opening session down at Lucas Oil Stadium. I was also excited as I walked into a sea of flashing lights, squid hats, and chattering teens inside the stadium. The beginning of the session was filled with musical acts and dancing from the teens, and plenty of screaming! I was getting so excited. It was amazing.

Kids were tweeting all kinds of stuff so they could show up on the Jumbotron screens, but their tweets were so refreshing and clean.

Finally, the party really started, and the emcee, Jesse Manibusan, came out to get the 23,000 people in attendance even more hyped up—if that was even possible at this point!

The most memorable part of the opening session was when he asked us three questions and we responded. Loudly.

“Who’s the Church?”

“We are!”

“Where’s the Church?”

“Right here and everywhere!”

“How will others know this?”

“All are welcome!”

The echo from all of our voices was incredible to hear.

Complete silence came afterward, letting the sound hang in the air and letting me absorb what I had just heard. It was truly awesome to hear the strength in the voices of these teens representing their Church. I now know what wonder sounds like.

I will never forget those echoes for as long as I live.

The rest of my weekend was a blur of seminars and crowds, but I loved it all the same. I felt like I was in a different world. I mean, everywhere I turned, I saw boys talking about the new crucifix they just bought, and all kinds of teens crowding a booth trying to get a “VIRGINITY ROCKS” T-shirt.

It may have been a different world, but a world I would like to visit more often.

The last event I attended was Jason and Crystalina Evert’s seminar, “Love or Lust?” on Friday. It was empowering, helpful and humorous.

I was so inspired afterward that I made a promise to myself to stay pure until I’m joined in holy matrimony with my husband. I never felt so confident and excited for the future than when I put that purity ring on my left hand. If I didn’t get the chance to attend NCYC, I wouldn’t have been strengthened in my decision to do this.

In fact, if I didn’t get the chance to be “Signed. Sealed. Delivered” with all these other teens, I would still be under the impression that being proud of my faith is embarrassing and really not very fun.

These teenagers and all the people attending the conference really changed my life and reinforced my belief in Catholicism.

So thank you.

Thank you, all you 23,000 brothers and sisters, for turning a doubter into a believer.

Thank you for giving me two days I will never forget.

(Briana Stewart, an intern for The Criterion, is a senior at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis.)

See more stories and photos from NCYC 2013 here

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