INDIANAPOLIS - The National Catholic Youth Conference is one of the largest gatherings of Catholic high school students in the country. Teenagers come from all over the country to pray together, build community, learn more about their faith, and become empowered to live out their faith. The Diocese of Gary will be well represented when the 2023 National Catholic Youth Conference kicks off Nov. 16-18 in Indianapolis.
“At NCYC, students gather for large keynote speakers and prayer experiences in Lucas Oil Stadium, attend breakout sessions, experience Eucharistic Adoration and reconciliation, participate in service opportunities, and have countless opportunities to meet other Catholic teens from around the country. It's amazing!” explained Vicky Hathaway, diocesan ministry consultant for Youth and Young Adults.
Hathaway said she is always amazed by seeing young people praying together.
“Seeing thousands of teens on their knees in adoration in a football stadium is so powerful,” she said. “Young people, opening their hearts to Christ is such a beautiful thing. My fondest memories of NCYC are having conversations with young people as they process what they experienced.”
Hathaway said she has been praying for the young people and their chaperones ever since they registered for NCYC, so seeing them finally at NCYC and experiencing all that they can, will be fun and exciting.
“I'm also excited for our adult chaperones to see their young people experience NCYC and walk with their own young people,” she said prior to heading to the state’s capitol. “NCYC is a great time to build relationships and to open the door for conversations about how God is working in the lives of the young people in their group.”
Hathaway shared that she also couldn't wait for members of the Diocese of Gary to gather together at NCYC. For example, a Diocesan Mass is scheduled at NCYC with Bishop Robert J. McClory presiding on Nov. 17.
“That will be a beautiful time to pray and celebrate as a local church,” said Hathaway. “We also will be helping with communion at the closing liturgy. That will be a wonderful way for our young people to use their gifts and talents at NCYC. I hope this NCYC will be a catalyst to many things in the lives of our young Church.”
While Hataway shared that this NCYC might have a slightly reduced number of participants than in the past (formally held biannually, NCYC is now being held yearly, alternating between Indianapolis and Long Beach, Calif.), NCYC was still expected to be very Spirit filled. This year was complete with breakout sessions, musicians, places to explore in the thematic park, and of course, the large prayer-filled gatherings in Lucas Oil every morning and evening.
One thing that was new this year for those from the Diocese of Gary, was organized bus transportation for local participants who were interested. This means most of the participants will travel to Indianapolis together.
“NCYC is a unique way to help young people experience ‘big Church,’” said Hathaway. “We know that our faith is bigger than our own parishes or communities, but to see it is another thing. Seeing young people engaging with their faith, being open to their faith, it's really quite inspiring – inspiring as an adult to encourage the young people around me to do the same back home and inspiring to young people to let them know they are not alone in their faith. There is something at NCYC for everyone!”
The Diocese of Gary had more than 130 people registered to attend NCYC. Parishes and schools represented include Andrean High School, Merrillville; Holy Name of Jesus, Cedar Lake; Holy Spirit, Winfield; Our Lady of Guadalupe, East Chicago; Queen of All Saints, Michigan City; St. John Bosco, Hammond; St. John the Baptist, Whiting; St. Margaret Mary, Hammond; St. Matthias, Crown Point; St. Michael the Archangel, Schererville; St. Paul, Valparaiso; and St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center, Valparaiso.
Phil Page said this is the fifth NCYC pilgrimage he organized for St. Paul in Valparaiso. Through his involvement, he has been able to accompany four of his six children to the event.
“I am looking forward to my daughter Molly and her friends experiencing the Church in a different light,” he said in advance of the event. “I want them to see the Church full of life and on a bigger scale, not just in our small community. I also want them to experience Christ in a different way.”
Page added the parish held several meetings and fundraising sessions regarding the trip, which allowed the young people to interact with each other and the community that is supporting their pilgrimage.
“I pray they come home from the experience excited about their faith,” he said. “I hope NCYC is a launching point for them to learn more about their faith and that God’s love for them is infinite.”
Jamie Sandona, of St. John the Baptist, has attended NCYC with the PHYRE Youth Ministry Program since she first traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, in 2009. She was most looking forward to seeing the young Church together again.
“COVID-19 impacted youth ministry programming so significantly and I am really interested to see if it has an impact on the conference post-COVID,” she said.
As the director of religious education at the Whiting parish, Sandona met with the group of young people and their parents in the months leading up to the event as they all shared the planning process. As they get ready to embark, there are a few things that have happened in the past, Sandona noted, that are likely to take place again.
“We have had a special blessing at the Sunday liturgy for our group, and we have also had our pastor offer a blessing as we board the bus or gather in the parking lot getting ready to leave. This year there is hope that the young people would be able to gather on the Sunday before departure for a special blessing by our community and pastor.”
Sandona was very hopeful that “our young people will walk away with a sense of having a seat at the table.”
“So many of our young people today feel that the Church is something they do, if they even participate any longer,” she said. “But by attending NCYC, perhaps they will see the young Church, identify as its leaders and then take that energy to their home parish and sit at the table of the leadership of the local church and become that voice that represents the young church.”