November 29, 2019

National Catholic Youth Conference 2019

Vocations at NCYC: Joyful priests, religious encourage youths to discern

Franciscan Sister Janette Pruit, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, speaks on Nov. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during the National Catholic Youth Conference to Celina Feldhake, left, and Amanda Merkes, both of Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Franciscan Sister Janette Pruit, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg, speaks on Nov. 22 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis during the National Catholic Youth Conference to Celina Feldhake, left, and Amanda Merkes, both of Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) held on Nov. 21-23 in Indianapolis was one of the first events that Father Michael Keucher participated in as the new archdiocesan vocations director.

Manning a booth for the National Conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors outside a room in the Indiana Convention Center where hundreds of priests heard thousands of confessions during the three days, Father Keucher said NCYC is great for encouraging young people to begin considering God’s call in their lives.

“There’s a beautiful Catholic culture here that encourages these kids, who clearly have such a beautiful faith, to think about what God’s dream might be for their lives, what his plan is for them,” said Father Keucher. “You can see that the faith is alive in their hearts. So, it’s neat to see their hunger to discern God’s will.”

In the conference’s thematic park in another part of the convention center, members of several religious communities from across the country spent time with NCYC participants, answering their questions, sharing rosaries and holy cards with them and encouraging them to pray about their vocation.

“It really is amazing,” said Mother Christina Murray, superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph the Worker in Walton, Ky., about the conference. “It shows how big the Church is and how young the Church is. There are kids out there who are on fire with their faith. But I think they don’t get much credit sometimes.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t know that religious life was an option. They have to know that it’s an option, it’s out there and that we’re happy with it. We need to plant those seeds and let them think about it.”

Not far from the booth where Mother Christina helped teens have photos taken of them behind life-size cutouts of nuns and priests, Holy Cross Brother Jimmy Henke interacted with youths attending the conference.

He attended NCYC in 2011 as a student at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and a member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. This year, he was glad to return as a Holy Cross brother in the second year of temporary vows.

“Planting seeds is exactly what it is,” said Brother Jimmy. “The students here are just beginning to think about vocational questions. I might be the first person who has ever asked them, ‘Have you ever thought about being a priest or brother?’

“Sometimes, I talk about Holy Cross. But a lot of it is just inviting them to begin that discernment question.”

Franciscan Sister Kathleen Branham, vocations director for the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg, had many similar conversations at a booth for her community in the thematic park.

“It opens a door for these young people so they can think about religious life,” she said. “When you ask some of these young people if they’ve thought about religious life, a lot said they didn’t until they came here.”

Zander Jez, a teen from Houston attending his second NCYC, said the teens appreciated the presence of so many seminarians, priests and religious at the conference.

“It helps me to know that our Catholic faith is alive in so many different ways,” Zander said. “There isn’t just one way of being a Catholic. You can help in many different aspects through the Franciscans or the Basilians or being a sister.

“And when you hear about discernment, you think it’s about becoming a priest or a sister. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It could mean being married and having kids.”

Archdiocesan seminarians have volunteered at NCYC while the conference has been held in Indianapolis. Some assist in the confession room. Others facilitate breakout sessions or just help direct the sometimes massive pedestrian traffic at the conference.

Archdiocesan seminarian James Hentz, a freshman at Bishop Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, was excited to volunteer at NCYC. Two years ago, he attended it as a junior at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis.

“I remember talking with the seminarians at NCYC then,” Hentz said. “Now I’m in the position where I saw them at.”

He volunteered in the confession room and was impressed by the pastoral care given by the many priests ministering there during the conference.

“It’s one of the greatest things that I’ve seen in years,” said Hentz, a member of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. “One person is balling their eyes out. The next person is ecstatic.

“You see them at the highest and lowest points in their lives. Seeing people how they come in compared to how they leave—they walk lighter. I can’t imagine how the priests are feeling, seeing such a radical transformation.”

Father Jerry Byrd, pastor of St. Mary Parish in North Vernon and St. Joseph and St. Ann parishes, both in Jennings County, volunteered at NCYC as a seminarian. Now he’s happy to serve at it as a priest.

“You come to this and see all the young people interested in the faith, wanting to live it out and to figure out how to do that—it inspires me as a pastor and wakes me up a little bit,” said Father Byrd. “If they’re seeing priests and religious that are happy, that love what they’re doing, that witness alone is going to be enough to inspire young people.

“That witness is really important. If we want to bolster vocations, that’s how we have to do it.” †

(For more information about vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.HearGodsCall.com.)

 

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