November 26, 2021

National Catholic Youth Conference 2021

From its soaring start, NCYC calls youths to rely upon the Holy Spirit to transform the world

Grammy Award-winning singer Lecrae delivered a soulful and spiritual performance during the opening session of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 18. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Grammy Award-winning singer Lecrae delivered a soulful and spiritual performance during the opening session of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Nov. 18. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

In the middle of one of his powerful, pulsating songs that rocked Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on the night of Nov. 18, Lecrae suddenly stopped singing to talk to the nearly 11,000 youths from across the United States who had come together for the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC).

“I just wanted to say something to all you,” the Grammy Award-winning singer said as the raucous crowd went silent. “God wants to use you in this stage of your life now. There is a zeal inside you. Use that passion to change the world for the Lord. Go crazy for the Lord now, and go crazy for him for the rest of your life.”

Lacrae then shared a story about a woman he came upon on a bridge in New York City, a woman who was getting ready to jump from it until he held onto her.

“I said, ‘What are you doing?!’ She started kicking and screaming, saying, ‘Let me go! I’m trying to go meet God!’ I said, ‘Sweetheart, you can meet God on this side of the bridge.’ ”

That line from Lacrae resulted in a roar of approval from the youths in the stadium, and more cheers followed when the singer added, “The thing I wanted her to know is the same thing I want you to know. Let me tell you all, if God woke you up this morning, he’s not done with you yet. So if you got things that God needs you to do, you need to keep going. If you’re going through some tough times, just fight a little longer, my friends.

“You may be battling the storm. You may be feeling you don’t have what it takes. But I promise you, God is speaking in this moment. The Holy Spirit is speaking to you, and he’s saying something like”—which led Lacrae to start singing a song that begins, “Fight a little longer, my friend. It’s all worth it in the end.”

In that span of a few minutes, Lacrae had set the tone for the evening and the three-day conference.

As he ended his part of the opening program with one last song, a number of youths rushed toward the stage, jumping and dancing while many in the stands swayed back and forth as the flashlights from their cell phones lit up the darkened stadium.

The scene marked the transition for the mood that enveloped the stadium for the rest of the night. That moment of storming toward the stage gave way to a theme of calming the storms that rock the lives of teenagers—that rock the lives of people of all ages.

As a huge, towering image of a dove was projected above the stage, the rest of the night focused on the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome fear, doubt and heartbreak and lead people to their true identity as children of God who have a distinct purpose in life to change the world and the people they encounter.

Readings from the Bible echoed that theme. So did a series of soothing, calming songs whose lyrics called upon the Holy Spirit to descend upon the crowd, to let his spirit fill the youths.

“Holy Spirit, come rest on us. You’re all we want. You’re all we want.”

The evening’s keynote speaker—Chika Anyanwu—continued that theme in her presentation.

She shared her own story of saying “yes” to the promptings of the Holy Spirit—even though it took her away from everyone and everything she loved.

The Catholic evangelist initially turned down an offer to move from her California home to work for Vagabond Missions in Pittsburgh, an initiative that strives to support inner-city high school youths and bring them closer to God. She said no because it would mean moving away from her family, her friends and the warm weather she loved. She was also afraid of making the move.

“I had a lot of fear,” she told the youths, adding that she talked to God in this way, “What if I fail? What if I mess up? What if I just want to move back home? God, I’m scared.”

Yet she made the move after she visited Pittsburgh and saw the need of the youths and saw how she could help them.

“A lot of us are living in fear,” she told the crowd. “Whether it’s the fear of the unknown, a fear of someone, a fear of a virus that’s unknown. But God is with us. He always will be.

“The Lord has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Everything that we need to do his will, to do his work, to do it well, he’s given it to us. We are moving forward. We are focusing on our faith over fear. We are focusing on Jesus who says he is the way.”

Anyanwu told the youths that it all comes down to one question, a question that seemed to inspire nearly every aspect of this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference:

“Are you ready to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?”

She provided her own answer to that question.

“The Holy Spirit has a plan, a purpose for you,” she said. “Wherever you are in your relationship with the Lord, it doesn’t matter. Today, you can choose to be an open vessel to the Holy Spirit, who will take you places that you never thought you would ever go. This Holy Spirit has a plan for you, if you say yes.

“The Lord has not given you a spirit of fear, a spirit of timidity. The Holy Spirit has given you a spirit of courage.” †

 

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