November 29, 2013

National Catholic Youth Conference 2013

The spirit of two girls helps the faith of others soar

Holding a large crucifix, Ansel Augustine, left, talks with National Catholic Youth Conference emcee Jesse Manibusan during his presentation at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on the morning of Nov. 23 in Lucas Oil Staidum. (Photo by Rich Clark)

Holding a large crucifix, Ansel Augustine, left, talks with National Catholic Youth Conference emcee Jesse Manibusan during his presentation at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on the morning of Nov. 23 in Lucas Oil Staidum. (Photo by Rich Clark)

By John Shaughnessy

He moved to the stage with the strut and the swagger of joyful New Orleans.

As the music soared and brightly-colored umbrellas danced above the heads of a group of teenagers, Ansel Augustine flashed a smile that was almost as bright as the bling on his fingers and the sparkling gold-white-and-black boots he wore.

On stage, the celebration continued as the longtime youth minister led the youthful Psalm 119 Step Team from the Archdiocese of New Orleans in a rousing, stomping dance number that brought the 23,000 teenagers inside Lucas Oil Stadium to their feet, cheering.

Yet even with all that strut and swagger, perhaps the most lasting impact that Augustine made on the participants of the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) on the early morning of Nov. 23 came through the spirit and the substance of two stories he shared.

Augustine’s first story focused on a group of men hustling through an airport after a business trip, trying to make a flight home that was ready to leave.

“They’re running through the airport and one of them accidentally knocks over this little girl’s fruit stand, fruit going everywhere,” began Augustine, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

All but one of the men made the flight, Augustine noted.

“He called his wife and said he’d be late. He went back and saw this young girl hopelessly on the floor, groping for fruit, people ignoring her, and no one there to care for her.

“When he walked up to her, he started helping her grab the fruit when he realized something. He realized the young girl was totally blind.”

The man spent the next several minutes putting the fruit stand back together for the girl.

“At the end of doing all this, he gave her $40, took all the damaged fruit away, and said, ‘I hope I didn’t spoil your day too badly.’ As he looked at her, he saw tears streaming down her face.”

By this time, he had to leave to book another flight.

“As he walked away, the girl said, ‘Mister!’ He stopped, turned around and looked into her eyes. And the girl asked this question, ‘Are you Jesus?’

“He didn’t answer. He didn’t know how. But that question was burning in his heart all the way home.”

As the once rocking stadium turned silent, Augustine paused before asking the Catholic youths a question.

“NCYC, young Church of today, are you Jesus? Can people mistake your life so much so as that of one of Christ? The way you treat one another, how you act, can people say, ‘That’s a follower of Christ’? Or do you just go with the flow? Are you scared to step up and speak out in the name of Jesus?

“If we were to pull up your Facebook page, your Instagram page, your Twitter, would you be proud of what you are representing? Young people, our Church needs you. My challenge to you is to check yourself. As you do, find those areas of your life where Christ may be vacant. Bring him in, and let us know who you are and whose you are.”

Augustine’s second story focused on a father and a daughter.

One of their common bonds was fishing together, and they were just heading home from a day when they had caught a bounty of fish. As they headed back to the pier in a row boat, the daughter told her dad, “I bet I can beat you to the pier if I swim.” The dad let her.

“She jumped in the water and started swimming as hard as she could,” Augustine told the teenagers. “Trying to make his daughter feel good, the father started rowing real, real slow. As the daughter started swimming harder, he started noticing ripples in the water behind her. He started rowing a little faster. All of a sudden, an alligator’s head popped out of the water.

“The father starts screaming and shouting, rowing as fast as he could, but the daughter couldn’t hear him because she’s swimming so hard. The alligator is getting closer to her.”

In the frantic seconds that followed, the father made it to the pier while his daughter was just feet away from reaching it. The dad told the daughter to jump to him.

“She jumped into her father’s loving arms. Unfortunately, the alligator jumped, too, and he clamped onto the girl’s legs. Immediately, a tug of war happened. The father tried to pull the daughter out, and the alligator tried to pull the girl in.”

At the same time, a farmer was driving by, saw the struggle, grabbed his shotgun and fired at the alligator, killing it.

Augustine continued the story by focusing on a moment a few years later when a reporter came to visit the girl in the hospital—as part of a “where are they now” story. By then, the girl had reached the point where she was walking again.

“At the end of the interview, the reporter turned off the tape recorder and asked if she could see the girl’s scars. The little girl hopped on her hospital bed and pulled up her gown. Her legs were twisted and mangled from the alligator’s teeth, the years of surgery and the years of rehab.”

The reporter was embarrassed that she had asked, but the girl said, “Don’t worry about it. Do you want to see my cool scars?”

The reporter was confused. She said, “Cool scars? Well sure.”

“The little girl jumped up on the hospital bed, rolled up her sleeves, and there were all kinds of scars up and down her arms. The little girl said, ‘These are my cool scars because this is where my father refused to let me go.”

Augustine let the emotion of those words sink in for the teenagers.

“For many of us here, we walk around with scars. We have our own issues, our own trials, our own tribulations, our own problems. But I came here to remind you that Jesus refuses to let us go. He is there with us.”

Augustine paused again.

“Never forget who you are. Never forget whose you are.” †

See more stories and photos from NCYC 2013 here

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