Setting some 23,000 teenagers loose on the streets of Indianapolis for four days sounds like trouble. Live concerts, neon lights, screaming, synchronized dancing, mass exoduses across busy streets, hats shaped like ice cream cones, pie slices and giant squids…definitely trouble.
But for attendees of the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) held Nov. 21 – 23, it was all part of the experience. NCYC is an event held for Catholic high school students once every two years, and attracts participants from all over the country, including groups from Alaska and Hawaii. The conference is designed to enrich the faith of young Catholics in the United States through inspirational speakers, energizing musicians and powerful Catholic traditions.
Several DHS students attended the conference with their parish youth groups. Senior Erin O’Neil’s first NCYC experience surpassed her expectations.
“Truthfully, I was expecting NCYC to be a lot more boring and awkward than it was,” O’Neil said. “Fortunately, everyone was willing to be themselves and act silly when we were dancing and shouting praises, and serious during quiet times like the somber life stories and Mass. It was so much more energetic and exciting that I had previously thought.”
Junior Karissa LaRue was a seasoned pro this time around at NCYC. Having attended the conference in 2011, LaRue was familiar with the format of the event and knew what to anticipate. However, she was still just as excited for her second time there, and was also met with some surprises.
“The rappers were definitely unexpected for me,” LaRue said. “We did not have any rappers in 2011, but this year we had Righteous B and a group rapped the Rosary, which was way cool!”
Paula Dachsteiner is the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at St. Brigid of Kildare parish in Midland, one of the churches from the Diocese of Saginaw that gave their teens the opportunity to make the trip down to Indianapolis. An eight-time veteran, Dachsteiner agreed that this year’s program seemed to have a little extra something.
“Actually this conference seemed to be one of the best ones yet,” Dachsteiner said. “The speakers and workshops were top notch.”
NCYC was based out of Lucas Oil stadium as well as the Indianapolis Convention Center. Participants attended general sessions Thursday night, twice on Friday and Saturday morning, where everyone at the conference gathered in the stadium for live music, inspirational speakers and time spent in prayer together. The majority of the rest of their time was spent in breakout sessions at the Convention Center. Having pages of choices for each session to choose from made it easy for attendees to find just what they were looking for in topics, speakers and styles of presentation.
“Having such a variety of sessions to attend guaranteed that I would be interested in the topics I picked and would actually be interested in what they said because I got to choose what I learned about,” O’Neil said.
Students also had the chance to explore the Thematic Park, a large wing of the Convention Center filled with booths of Catholic publishers, radio stations, jewelry and apparel vendors, religious communities and even areas to serve in ways like packaging food for the Catholic Relief Services organization. O’Neil was excited to see a booth set up for Lourdes University where she will be attending college next fall to compete on their women’s volleyball team.
“Although it’s hard to pick one moment, seeing all the Catholic colleges at the Thematic Park was probably one of the best moments of the weekend for me,” O’Neil said. “Knowing that there are thousands of other seniors like me preparing to enter into a college or university where that rejoicing and praising with such enthusiasm and eagerness is surrounding me for four years makes me [feel] so terrific and blessed for myself and the other students.”
So beyond the hype and energy of all of the activities, NCYC really did give teens the chance to embrace their Catholic faith and grow closer to God. For many, including LaRue and O’Neil, the highlight of the entire weekend was the Mass in the Lucas Oil stadium attended by all of the participants on Saturday night at the very end of the conference.
“The Mass at the end with all 23,000 Catholics was magical,” LaRue said. “It gave me goosebumps. Words can’t explain how amazing it was.”
Dachsteiner believes that even the adult chaperones and supervisors are impacted by the changes they see in the teens they know well from youth groups in their home parishes.
“The energy level truly pumps me up,” Dachsteiner said. “Being with the teens is inspiring. The faith they have is so refreshing.”
LaRue is one of thousands of participants who believes that the time she spent at NCYC 2013 will carry over into the rest of her life.
“I’ve learned to be proud of my faith and not to feel like I am alone because I have 23,000 Catholic teens to back me up,” LaRue said. “Now that I am back home, I try to stand up for what I believe more than ever. I have a deeper connection at Mass and have for sure grown deeper in my faith once again. It’s amazing how much I have grown in my faith with the impact of the two times I’ve been to NCYC. Without it, I would not be the person I am today.”