By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium hummed with the energy of 20,000 or so Catholic young people, including 400 from the Archdiocese of Louisville during the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) Nov. 16-18 in downtown Indianapolis.
The national gathering came as the U.S. bishops are calling on youth to let the church know of their needs. Pope Francis has called for a World Synod of Bishops — a special world-wide meeting — focused on young Catholics in October 2018.
The delegation from the Archdiocese of Louisville included a little more than 500 people, including adult chaperones, representing 40 parishes and high schools. The young delegates took part in workshops, eucharistic adoration, daily Mass and other activities
Sixteen-year-old Madison Miles and 14-year-old Molly Minton, members of Mary Queen of Peace Church, said they never expected to have as much fun their first time at NCYC.
“It’s a great atmosphere being around people who accept you because they believe the same things you do,” said Minton.
On their first day at the conference, the teens said they heard a speech by Sister Miriam James Heidland — a sister of the Society of Our Lady of the Most High Trinity. Sister Heidland delivered a “powerful” testimony about overcoming alcohol addiction and finding love in Jesus Christ, the teens said.
Cassidy Boyd, also a member of Mary Queen of Peace, said she was moved by that message, adding, “It’s cool to hear how she got out of that bad part of her life.”
Miles said she learned that “you can always overcome something with faith” and that everyone is called to do something with their lives.
Two teens from St. Monica Church in Bardstown, Ky., said they also found inspiration their first day at the conference.
MaAliyah Hodge, a high school senior, heard Sister Heidland speak and connected with the message, she said.
“People in church tend to think if you commit a sin you no longer have a relationship with God,” said Hodge. She learned, she said, “no matter what your past is, God is still accepting.”
Seventeen-year-old Shaquan Hays, a member of St. Monica, said he decided to attend the conference at the last minute and was happy he did.
“I’m going through a lot personally and in my faith,” said Hays. Attending a session entitled “Love Yourself,” helped to lift him up, he said.
“It was like a light in the tunnel showing me where to go,” said Hays.
In a sea of excited young faces were teens from Holy Trinity Church wearing playful, colorful hats. Amidst the fun and excitement, these young people said they learned some profound lessons.
“It’s cool being around people who are excited about their faith,” said 17-year-old Eva Spohn. She said she learned about “surrendering our wholeselves to Jesus. That’s beautiful and that’s the way to a happy and successful life.”
Max Harrington, a Holy Trinity parishioner who attended NCYC for the first time, said it was “amazing” seeing so many young people bonding over their faith. He attended a workshop entitled “All Saints.” He said he learned, “We all have the ability to be a saint. What sets us apart is going out and being a saint.”
Thirty-nine young people from St. Paul and Incarnation churches attended the conference. Among them were Maddie Wilson and Ashlynn Tucker.
Wilson said the sense of community was unmistakable “even with 20,000 people you don’t know.” The atmosphere was one in which she felt welcomed to be herself and express her faith, she said. The most important lesson she learned, she noted, was “self-surrender. Let go and let God.”
Tucker said the conference experience was “fulfilling.” She appreciated the sense that everyone came seeking the same thing though they came from all walks of life. “We all want to know we’re not alone in our faith,” said Tucker. “The Catholic Church is alive and this is a good example of the church coming together.”
NCYC is held every other year and provides an opportunity for Catholic youth from around the country to learn and pray together.
It also helps the church connect to the needs of young people, said Karl Dolson, director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Dolson described the conference as a “profound experience of the young church in our country.”
It’s an important experience most young people don’t have in their own parish or archdiocese, he noted.
“It allows them to see that there’s life, enthusiasm, excitement and joy in our Catholic faith,” he said during an interview Nov. 17. “They encounter the universal church and are exposed to so many faithful ways to express their Catholicism.”
He believes NCYC is especially important in light of the upcoming Synod of the Bishops on youth.
The synod, said Dolson, is the Holy Father’s “response to understanding what the needs of young people are.”
The Holy Father recognizes that the church is losing young people and he’s seeking to respond, said Dolson.
NCYC, he added, is also a way of helping young Catholics see their “own call, value and gifts” and that they “have a place in the larger church.”
Dolson helped to faciliate a workshop on integrating Christian music into youth ministry.