November 26, 2021

National Catholic Youth Conference 2021

Youths encounter Christ through talks, sacraments, fellowship and music at NCYC

Youths pray during eucharistic adoration on Nov. 19 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis during the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

Youths pray during eucharistic adoration on Nov. 19 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis during the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Photos by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

There is no simple answer to the question, “What is the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC)?”

It is so many things.

Logistically, it is a three-day gathering of Catholic high school youths from around the country that happens every two years.

There are talks, Mass, eucharistic adoration, music, service projects, and a convention hall filled with exhibitors from religious institutions and organizations, vendors of religious items and areas for teens to play and pray.

That is the structure of NCYC. But the spirit of the youths and the Holy Spirit comprise the flesh and breath of this event. Every component of it is designed to nurture today’s Catholic youths in their faith and their relationship with Christ.

“NCYC is an opportunity for young people to experience the breadth of our Catholic Church and an opportunity to have an encounter with Jesus Christ amongst their friends, and all their new friends,” said Christina Lamas, executive director of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry which organizes the event. “It provides hope, inspiration, and gives life to our present and our future Church.”

Speakers ‘on fire for Christ’

Much of the teens’ time at NCYC is spent listening to faith-nourishing and thought-provoking talks by renowned Catholic speakers.

“We look for individuals who can speak from their own personal relationship with Christ, who reflect Church teaching, who can be an example, model and witness of what it means to live a life in Christ that young people can look up to, hear their witness and see elements of that witness in their own life,” said Lamas. “We want speakers on fire for Christ who are filled with the Holy Spirit.”

“I really enjoy the talks,” said Ellie Fulbright, 17, of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Mont. “I’m really into seeing different people’s points of views and being able to dive in deeper and realizing maybe, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting point,’ or maybe, ‘Oh, now I understand why we do that.’ ”

This year, she and the nearly 11,000 participants had five break-out sessions, three general sessions and three types of youth-led discussions to choose from.

‘It’s super meaningful’

NCYC abounds with opportunities for young people to partake in the sacraments.

The event begins with a eucharistic procession through the halls and outside of the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, with participants kneeling along the path then joining in the procession after the Blessed Sacrament passes by.

Masses are celebrated at various times during each day, including a conference-wide Mass in Lucas Oil Stadium that closes the event and sends the youths back home to put into practice what they learned. (See related article)

The sacrament of reconciliation is offered throughout the event. (See related article) Kaylee Klos, 17, of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, listed confession among her favorite aspects of NCYC.

“Getting out of my hometown and speaking with a priest I’ve never seen, it was something I’d never experienced before,” she said.

Many youths interviewed by The Criterion during the event cited the group adoration on the second night of NCYC as their favorite part of the three-day event.

Elaina Deardorff, 17, of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, was one such teen.

“My favorite thing is adoration as a huge group,” she said. “Seeing how everyone comes together to worship the Lord—it’s super meaningful.” (See related article)

Pointing ‘back to the Catholic faith’

The Village is the primary source of interaction among the teens. The theme of this year’s Village was “Holy Spirit Mall,” with different areas named after common-known stores.

For instance, Service Merchandise was the area where youths could participate in service projects. (See related article) At the Camelot Café, kids could enjoy karaoke. One of the hot spots in the Village was the Arcade, where participants could take part in games like dodge ball, Human Hungry Hippo and large-sized chess.

The Village also included exhibitors from numerous Catholic universities, religious orders and organizations, plus vendors selling anything from books to rosaries to Catholic-themed T-shirts and socks.

“The Village provides an opportunity for young people to see their faith in action,” Lamas explained. “The opportunities for service, the universities, different organizations and their missions—they all point them back to the Catholic faith.

“It’s also an opportunity to have fun, to learn, to have fellowship, to be with one another. I think the Village does all that and more. And it’s a hot spot for all the trading that takes place, especially those desired hats!”

Abigail Woodley, 15, of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, Alaska, mentioned the Village as one of her favorite aspects of NCYC “because it’s so amazing to see all the places around the world that I can connect with.”

‘Great to hear music I can vibe to’

Woven into almost every aspect of NCYC is something most teens connect with—music. Breakout sessions, general sessions, adoration, Mass—all begin with, include and end with music appropriate to the desired tone whether upbeat, worship, reflective or prayerful.

“Music speaks to all of us, but it’s very close to home with young people,” said Lamas. “They identify with the art, the lyrics. It’s a critical part of the program.”

Texas resident Adeline Fellona, 14, of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, appreciates the music of NCYC.

“The music at my home parish is kind of old-timey,” she admitted. “It’s really great to hear music that I can vibe to and that also praises Jesus. It’s a lot of fun to hear that here.”

‘Potential to transform society’

Lamas said her “hope and dream” for NCYC participants “is that they experience God’s love and have an encounter with Christ. How that transpires in each one’s life, that’s for God to determine.”

She said the event is scheduled to occur again in Indianapolis in 2023 and 2025.

“If you haven’t experienced an NCYC, you definitely want to make sure that you experience it once in your lifetime,” Lamas advised. “You can’t step into an environment of 10,000 or 20,000 kids who want to be here and not be affected. You won’t leave the same.

“There’s something about the joy that young people bring that transforms us individually and as a community and has potential to transform society and our world.” †

 

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