INDIANAPOLIS — Among the 10,000 or so young Catholics who gathered at the Indiana Convention Center Nov. 18 to 20 for the National Catholic Youth Conference were 230 delegates from the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Many of them said they attended the biennial event because of a desire to strengthen their relationship with God and connect with the wider church.
The event, also held at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, included presentations from national speakers, workshops, daily liturgies, concerts, opportunities for confession and service projects.
The national conference usually attracts more than 20,000 participants from across the nation, but it was scaled down this year due to COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, according to the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, the group that organizes the event.
This year was Kury Ramos’ second time attending the event. The 12th-grader who attends the Church of the Annunciation in Shelbyville, Ky., said attending the conference two years ago changed his life and made him want to return.
“For someone who may not have a strong relationship with God, I feel that if they come here they will definitely feel more connected with God. That’s been my experience,” said Kury. “I didn’t have the strongest relationship with God but it (NCYC two years ago) helped me build that relationship and helped me understand his calling and his words.
“I didn’t like going to church, but this experience and the things I heard here gave me a deeper understanding of the Mass,” he said.
Eswin Duarte, an 11th-grader who was part of Kury’s group, came for the first time and said he had a “very positive” experience.
“I’m hoping to continue to grow in my faith here,” said Eswin.
High school students from St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky., shared the same hope.
Among them were Kayla Lancaster and her younger sister Anna Lancaster. Kayla, a 12th-grader, said this was her second time attending the conference.
“Coming my sophomore year transformed my faith and made me feel more connected to God. It’s inspiring hearing how others live out their faith as an example of how I can live out mine,” said Kayla. This year, she said, she was moved by a keynote address from Chika Anyanwu, a Catholic author and director of formation and events for Vagabond Missions, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that works with inner-city teens.
Anyanwu said that “we all have the Holy Spirit within us but we have to choose to let it burn within and let the flame spread to others,” said Kayla.
Her sister Anna Lancaster, a 10th-grader, who attended for the first time said, “It’s been really good. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of new people. I’m hoping to strengthen my faith, make new friends and connect with God.”
Ashley Hunt, who serves as youth minister at St. Augustine and Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Ky., along with Leticia Newton, a parent volunteer, served as chaperones for the group.
Newton said the experience is particularly “eye-opening” for the youth coming from rural areas. St. Augustine and Holy Name of Mary are located in Marion County. “To see other kids their age and witnessing seeing others active in the faith makes their faith stronger,” said Newton.
Hunt said the “experience was more than we thought it would be.” She plans to have the group share their experience with the parishes’ eighth-grade confirmation classes and the youth group to “get them excited” about their faith.
The teenagers also had the opportunity to participate in service projects during the three-day conference.
A group of young parishioners from St. Martin de Porres and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches took part in several service projects.
Some helped to make Christmas cards for elderly individuals served by Catholic Charities of Louisville. Others did something completely new. Trinity Taylor, a member of St. Martin de Porres, used strips of plastic bags to help crochet sleeping mats that will be given to homeless individuals. The project was organized by Creation Care, a ministry of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis whose mission is to educate parishes about Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for creation, Laudato Si’. This was Trinity’s first time making a mat out of plastic bags, but she knows how to crochet, she said.
“It makes me feel like I’m a part of helping, using the skills I already have,” said Trinity.
She also noted that the event helped her to see the diversity in the wider church.
“It’s been a great experience. I’ve met a lot of other people and I’ve learned how to branch out and talk to a lot of other youth,” she said.
Danari Timberlake-Turner, a member of St. Martin de Porres, and Arianna Pointer, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary, who traveled with Trinity’s group, also noted the diversity.
Danari said, “It’s been really fun. I made some new friends. There’s a lot of diversity and you really get down into your faith and you learn a lot about your faith. I’ve strengthened my connection with God.”
Arianna said, “We met many from Alaska and from Kentucky, of different races. … It’s like a melting pot. Overall the experience is enlightening.”
Karie French, who serves as a youth minister at St. Gregory Church in Samuels, Ky., brought a group of young people to the conference for the fifth time.
“It helps them to see the bigger picture and connect with the larger church. Seeing other kids actively participating in their faith makes them more comfortable in their faith,” said French. “They all go home with something different. The presentations affect them differently. It meets each one where they are.”
Ashleigh Morgan, a ninth-grader who was part of French’s group, said she had an “amazing” experience. The music and the presentations were her favorite parts, she said.
“The songs and music, it really moves you and the presentations hit my heart,” she said.
Ashleigh and her group attended a breakout session Nov. 19 on “Trusting a God You Can’t See.”
“It was eye-opening. I have a hard time believing God is there when something bad happens,” said Ashleigh. “I tend to believe he’s not looking out for me. You have to believe that he will be there in hard times and easy times and that it’s the path that he’s leading you down and where you’re meant to be.”
Molly Parkerson, a ninth-grader, and Kealey Crow, an 11th-grader, also attended with French’s group.
Molly said the break-out session was “inspiring.”
“It’s taught me to always have faith in God because the only way to get through all this is God. Just keep looking for the signs or the people he may send you to always follow the right path,” she said. “Just hearing people say you’re going to get through it helps.”
Kealey, who was attending her second conference, said, “It’s been really inspiring and helped strengthen my faith in God in believing he’s always there for me. It’s going to help me to believe in myself more and to rely on God and to follow my passion and goals.”