November 24, 2023

National Catholic Youth Conference 2023

Dozens of priests at NCYC give the gift of mercy in the sacrament of penance

Father Noah Diehm of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, hears the confession of a National Catholic Youth Conference participant on Nov. 17 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Noah Diehm of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, hears the confession of a National Catholic Youth Conference participant on Nov. 17 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) is known for its large crowds of boisterous Catholic teens from across the country rejoicing together as one.

But the conference is also marked by more intimate experiences. That happens especially, and in large numbers, in the sacrament of penance.

Dozens of priests from across the U.S. heard confessions for hours in a large ballroom on Nov. 17 and 18 in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis and during conference general sessions in a concourse of the adjacent Lucas Oil Stadium.

Teens gladly waited for the sacrament of penance for 30 minutes in a long winding line that extended from the confession room well out into a convention center hallway.

Demi Bolen, a high school junior and member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, went to confession at NCYC this year, the second time she had attended the conference.

“It’s worth it,” she said of waiting in line for the sacrament. “You’re confessing your sins and getting forgiven. That’s important. Having that weight lifted off your chest is really good.”

Seeing so many of her peers wanting to receive God’s mercy in the sacrament was encouraging to her.

“It just shows that everyone’s going through the same things you are,” Demi said. “Everyone has their faults like I do.”

She was also impressed by the dozens of priests hearing confessions.

“It’s insane how many priests take their time to do this for people,” Demi said. “They’re passionate in what they do, and they’re here to help you.”

One of those priests was Father Jeffrey Starkovich of the Diocese of Lake Charles, La.

“The greatest encounter of our life is the encounter with mercy and forgiveness,” he said. “In my experience as a priest, to be forgiven is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. That applies whether you’re a 7-year-old making your first confession or you’re at the end of your life and you want to be forgiven before you go to your judgment and eternal reward.

“Teenagers are human, just like everybody else. They want to be forgiven.”

Being in the ballroom with so many priests from across the country was a blessed reminder for Father Starkovich of the fraternity of the priesthood.

“I love being part of what I call the world’s biggest fraternity,” he said. “I’ve never met you. I don’t know anything about you. But I know the most important thing about you. We both love the Lord, and we’ve been ordained to serve.

“And we’re willing to sit in these not-very-comfortable chairs for long hours hearing stories from everybody about their sins to give them the gift of mercy and forgiveness. It’s what unites us. I love the visual of seeing 50 priests hearing confessions at the same time and seeing the people in line.”

Monica Robinson loved that sight as well. A pastoral associate at SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, Robinson has been a chaperone at many past NCYC gatherings. This was the first time she served there as a volunteer. Her job was to give out stickers to penitents leaving the confession room, stickers that said, “I’m forgiven.”

She remarked on Nov. 17 that many people receiving the sticker had said that it was like an “I voted” sticker handed out at polling places on election day.

“I told them, ‘No. It’s way better,’ ” said Robinson.

She was amazed at the long line of teens waiting to experience God’s mercy in the sacrament of penance.

“I’ve been here since [noon], and the line has not ceased the entire time,” said Robinson more than three hours later. “There are more than 50 priests here. It’s unbelievable. To see all of this beauty in front of me, my heart has just exploded.”

Not only was Robinson impressed by the number of teens waiting to confess their sins and be forgiven, she was also encouraged by the number of priests ready to hear those confessions.

“To see the love that they’re offering these young people speaks volumes about our Church,” she said. †

Read more stories from our 2023 NCYC Supplement

Local site Links: