November 26, 2021

National Catholic Youth Conference 2021

God’s mercy flows through the sacrament of penance at NCYC

Father Andy Hammeke of the Diocese of Salina, Kan., hears the confession of a National Catholic Youth Conference participant on Nov. 20 in a ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Andy Hammeke of the Diocese of Salina, Kan., hears the confession of a National Catholic Youth Conference participant on Nov. 20 in a ballroom of the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The nearly 11,000 youths may have just come from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis rocking with loud music, cheering and flashing bright lights.

But all of that disappeared the instant they set foot in a large, dimly lit and quiet ballroom in the Indiana Convention Center.

Pairs of chairs dotted the expansive room, some with cloth screens dividing them, others arranged close together so that the two people sitting in them could see each other.

This was the room where dozens of priests shared God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance with thousands of participants during the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) on Nov. 18-20 in Indianapolis.

Whenever the room was open, a steady, long line of penitents waited to be directed to a priest who could celebrate the sacrament of penance with them.

Seminarians directed penitents to chairs while other volunteers guided people in the confession lines and handed “I’m forgiven” stickers to those leaving the room after receiving sacramental absolution of their sins.

This year’s NCYC was the fourth at which Tara Donovan of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, volunteered as a chaperone. But talking about the reconciliation room still moved her.

“It’s amazing,” said Donovan through tears. “As parents, we try to guide our kids to make right choices. But you can only do so much. I’m just really glad that the kids are making themselves available and giving it all up to God.”

This was the second NCYC for Kellie Simon, a teenager from Abingdon, Md., in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Taking the opportunity to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance at the conference is important for her.

“It’s such a different experience than going [to confession] at your own church,” Kellie said. “You get to speak to a priest you’ve never met before.

“It’s such a peaceful entrance with the dim lights and music in the background. And you get to see a ton of youths also doing the same exact thing. It really makes you feel welcome and to know that you’re not the only one. To see all the youths around you, all believing the same thing you do, is really a wonderful experience.”

It’s also a wonderful experience for the priests hearing confessions at the conference, said Father Raphael Assamah of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa.

“It’s a great opportunity and a great sacrifice,” he said. “It tells you how the young people want to reconcile themselves with God. They may have a broken relationship with him and are finding ways with [coming to know] themselves and reconciling themselves with God and the Church.”

Father James Brockmeier, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Rushville, came to NCYC on the closing day of the conference to hear confessions, as he has done at previous NCYC’s since being ordained in 2016.

“One of the neatest things about a conference like this is that people come to confession who haven’t been to confession in a long time, many times,” he said.

Father Brockmeier also noted that conferences like NCYC can lead to powerful experiences of the sacrament of penance because many of the event presentations help prepare participants for confession.

“People will be inspired by what’s going on at the conference, the talks,” Father Brockmeier said. “It kind of acts as a giant examination of conscience.

“Everything here helps people to be focused on making a confession of their faith, which confession certainly is. They’re confessing sins, but they’re also confessing their trust that God forgives them and loves them.”

That certainly was the case for Kellie.

“It helps me to remember that God loves me no matter what,” she said. †

 

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