INDIANAPOLIS — A spirit of joy permeated Lucas Oil Stadium as the call-and-response rang out. But it was not the typical call heard in the stadium home of the Indianapolis Colts. Nor was it led by any ordinary fan.
“Viva Cristo Rey!” shouted Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.
“Viva!” cried 20,000 Catholic youths, chaperones, volunteers, youth ministers and seminarians, priests and bishops.
It was the call of a shepherd during the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 23 in Indianapolis. And it was the response of the faithful — as well as several hundred priests and six bishops concelebrating the Mass on the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, the feast ending the 2019 liturgical year.
In his homily, Archbishop Thompson explained that “Viva Christo Rey,” meaning “long live Christ the King,” became the cry of the Cristero movement fighting for religious freedom in Mexico in the 1920s when the Mexican government severely restricted the activities of the Catholic Church in the country.
During the war, the archbishop explained that José Luis Sánchez del Río “refused to denounce Jesus Christ as King, even to the point of death. Just before being shot, he is said to have shouted out ‘Viva Cristo Rey!'”
José Luis Sánchez del Río was just 14 years old.
“(He) was canonized a saint by Pope Francis in 2016,” Archbishop Thompson told the youths. “Yes, he was one of you.”
The leader of the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana expounded on the topic of king to the youths on this special feast day.
“The idea of a king tends to conjure up notions of power, royalty, prestige, wealth, crowns, thrones, castles, servants and privilege.” he said.
But “no such notions” are associated with Christ, King of the Universe, he noted.
“Our Scripture readings, particularly Luke’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, depicts one who is declared a king in ridicule, persecution and death,” Archbishop Thompson explained. “He is taunted, made to suffer and condemned as a criminal. Made to wear a crown of thorns. Thrust upon a cross as his throne. Bloodied, bruised, beaten and stripped of every thread of human decency.”
And yet we worship him today as our king and Savior, the archbishop said.
“Christ and his young church are indeed alive!” he exclaimed, noting that at NCYC “grace has flowed abundantly in various ways, and hopefully we will all leave here richer for the time spent in relation to God and one another.”
He encouraged the youths to “remain Christ-centered … and trust in the grace of the Holy Spirit that has signed, sealed and claimed you as a beloved child of God. No power in the world can take that from you.”
“You have been called to holiness and mission, claiming your place in the church, claiming your place in the kingdom of God.”
He added, “Until next NCYC or we meet in paradise, may each of us exude the joy of the Gospel proclaiming, ‘Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Cristo Rey! Viva Cristo Rey!'”
This year’s NCYC emcees, Father Agustino Torres, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, and Katie Prejean McGrady, a popular speaker and author, introduced the emcees for NCYC 2021 before the final blessing at Mass.
Raucous cheers rang out as they called out the names of Sister Miriam James Heidland, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, and Brian Greenfield as the two ran up the ramp to the altar.
Father Agustino and McGrady prayed over the next two emcees. Then Sister Miriam, an author and co-host on Catholic radio, announced the theme for NCYC 2021: “Ablaze.”
“That means the Holy Spirit is going to come into your life, transform your life (and) set you on fire so you can preach Christ to the ends of the world!” she cried.
Greenfield , a campus minister, author and national speaker, added that the 2021 theme comes from chapter two of the Acts of the Apostles, “when the Holy Spirit came upon the Upper Room and blessed and empowered the Apostles.”
“We’ve got two years to get ready for this, two years for what the Holy Spirit wants to do. So what does that mean? It means this: Read Acts, chapter two,” he said, following on a call throughout NCYC 2019 for youths to read the Scripture daily. “Prepare your hearts. … Pray every day with all your hearts. Pray for one another, pray for us, pray for the church.”
Archbishop Thompson also called for the youths to pray for their bishops, and also for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as it prepares for the next biennial conference.
“Dear young people, brothers and sisters in Christ, your witness of being blessed, broken and given is essential to the Church, the mission of the Lord,” he said. “Now you can applaud yourselves.”
The shouting that ensued lasted several minutes. Archbishop Thompson slowly turned his head, taking in the mass of young people cheering and clapping in the stadium. A joyful grin spread across his face and shined through his eyes. The grin turned into a laugh, making the 20,000 youths cheer louder.
“You’ve been great, but it’s past my bedtime,” he finally said, still smiling. “We look forward to seeing you at NCYC in 2021, back home again here in Indiana.”
With that he said the final blessing, sending the youths out on their call “to holiness and mission.”
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Hoefer is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.