November 26, 2021

National Catholic Youth Conference 2021

Youth-led sessions help teens connect, create action plan for life after NCYC

Abilene, Texas, residents Adeline Fellona, left, and her sisters Tessa and Margaux, fourth and fifth from left, of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, pose on Nov. 19 with the poster they and members of the archdioceses of Atlanta, Chicago and Indianapolis made of their take-aways from NCYC in Indianapolis and how they can put them into action. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Abilene, Texas, residents Adeline Fellona, left, and her sisters Tessa and Margaux, fourth and fifth from left, of the Archdiocese of the Military Services, pose on Nov. 19 with the poster they and members of the archdioceses of Atlanta, Chicago and Indianapolis made of their take-aways from NCYC in Indianapolis and how they can put them into action. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Face masks were not the only thing new at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis this year.

New on the schedule of optional activities were youth-led sessions called “Youth 2 Youth" and "Spirited Conversations.” Each was offered several times, with a different youth group from around the country taking ownership of the session.

When registering teens from Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Anniston, Ala., to attend NCYC, Ricardo Amaral noticed the option for his group to lead a youth session.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’ ” said Amaral, an assistant to the parish’s youth minister.

He signed the group up to lead a 30-minute Spirited Conversations session. According to a description of Spirited Conversations in the NCYC app, these “roundtables offer a space for young people to pause for reflection and further discussion about the different topics and themes being shared in general sessions and breakout sessions.”

“We were really surprised because he signed us up before we came here, and we didn’t even know!” said his 17-year-old daughter Anna Amaral. “We planned it before we left. It was fun!”

Ricardo Amaral said the four teens of their group “did everything—they came up with the instructions, the questions for discussion, the group activity. They led the prayers, they spoke at the podium. We adults were there if anyone needed help, but the girls did all the work.”

The teens split the session participants into groups with members from various dioceses.

“You spent sometimes 12 hours on a bus talking with your best friends” on the way to NCYC,” Ricardo Amaral told The Criterion. “You know what they think already. When you force the situation a little bit, you expose them to new ideas.”

One of the teens leading explained to the participants that the ultimate goal of the session was for the participants to come up with concrete ways they could put into action at home what they learned at NCYC.

The groups were asked to discuss their favorite thing about NCYC up to that point, what session messages most impacted them and why, what was the most important thing they’d learned, and how those ideas could be put into practice back home.

“I got a lot of things out of it when we were planning it,” said Anna. “Delving into the questions, at first we were just scraping the surface, giving simple answers.

“But after we started talking a little more, we started seeing more ideas, thinking of more in-depth answers. Like, instead of just saying we can go to church on Sunday, we started talking about how we could reach out to non-profits and volunteer, or even just get involved in our parish.”

After discussing the questions, each group was asked to list on a poster their main NCYC takeaways and how they can implement them. Photos of each group were taken and posted on social media.

Tessa Fellona, a 16-year-old member of the Archdiocese of the Military Services from Abilene, Texas, summarized the discussion at her table, which included youths from the archdioceses of Chicago, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

“The people at our table really liked the community here, learning and growing with other young people who are in the same situations as them,” she said. “They can really relate to the talks.

“It’s hard to be a young Catholic these days because so many people beat down on you and say, ‘You hate who I identify as,’ so it can be hard to relate to kids our age. Coming here, it’s crazy to see how many people are in the same boat as we are.”

Making connections among their peers was one aspect of the Spirited Conversations that excited Ricardo.

“The important thing of this exercise was the communication between the different people that came,” he said. “That communication is extremely important, extremely. By talking, you can see how you’re not the only one who feels the same way about certain things.”

He was also thrilled to see youths have the opportunity to take leadership at NCYC. †

 

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