The Diocese of Orlando delegation takes a picture at the National Catholic Youth Conference.

NCYC event brings youth together to celebrate Catholic faith 

INDIANAPOLIS | Catholic youths from across the nation and the world gave spiritual thanks a week before celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving holiday.

Nearly 20,000 youths came together in Indianapolis for the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference. They celebrated their faith by sharing their stories of how Christ has helped them and how they can continue to honor him going forward.  

Once the conference began, the youths knelt in silence as a eucharistic procession started in the Indiana Convention Center as Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson raised high the Blessed Sacrament. Representing 145 dioceses around the U.S. and from Australia, Canada and England, they came to participate in the largest biennial Catholic youth gathering in America.

This year’s theme, “Blessed. Broken. Given.” highlighted why those Catholic youths were there. They were present to honor Jesus and to learn how they can take what they have learned to others. During the opening session, participants listened to a warm greeting from Pope Francis, which captivated all 20,000 attendees from his videotaped sermon.  

“Dear young people of NCYC, I send you an affectionate greeting and my prayers at this moment of encounter that you are living,” the pope said. “May it be an opportunity to deepen your faith and communion. May it light your missionary hearts with the courage and strength to live in and with the Lord, always as a church sent forth. Go and fill your surroundings, even the digital ones. Not of convictions.”

Pope Francis spoke directly to the youths. “Not to convince others. Not to proselytize. But to bear witness of the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.” He ended with “And don’t forget to pray for me.”

That video message was a major highlight for Carlos Bernard. The diocesan diocese director of Youth Ministry for the Orlando Diocese said seeing Pope Francis on the big screen offering a message to the pilgrims gathered at Lucas Oil Stadium was inspirational.

“It was amazing to see that our Pope Francis took the time to recognize the ‘Church of Now.’ It also brought a feeling of encouragement to the youths to see that we are not alone in this journey this pilgrimage called life,” Bernard said. “That our pope, our Catholic Church is walking with the youth of today.”

Daniel Boyd, secretary for Laity, Family, and Life for the Orlando Diocese, said he his own Catholic values strengthened while at the conference.
“To see 20,000 young people with an openness to the Lord, to his grace, to his Church, to his Gospel, was invigorating for me,” he said. “Through this experience I was reminded of some of the seminal moments in my own live when God called me to live more intentionally for him, and I returned home with a renewed dedication to living the Gospel.”

Shortly after the pope gave his videotaped message, choir singers appeared on stage holding candles and chanted the Emmaus story from the Gospel of Luke. 

Cleveland Bishop Nelson J. Perez spoke to the youth and reminding them as they travel on their own journeys, that Jesus, “through his word and his abiding presence in the Eucharist” walks with them.

“He’s asking you, ‘What are you talking about? What’s going on in your lives? What’s going on in your hearts? I want to know. I want to listen,’” the bishop said.

He encouraged the youths to consider how they would respond if Christ asked them these questions, even if there are no definitive answers yet. Regardless, Bishop Perez said the Lord wants to hear from them in moments of prayer.

“Listen, because God has something powerful and beautiful to tell you.”
Bishop Perez shared a quote from the pontiff’s March 25 postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”), primarily addressed to young people: “Young people are taking to the streets … You are the ones that hold the future. Through you the future enters the world. I ask you to be protagonists of this transformation.”

While speaking, the stadium seats stayed darkened as the stage illuminate. Bishop Perez requested the youths to turn on their flashlights of their cell phones.  

The blackened seating area became a sea of individual bright lights.  
“Everybody look around at all these lights,” the bishop said. “Remember what Jesus said: You are the light of the world. Do not, do not, do not let anybody put your light under a bushel basket. Do not let anybody extinguish your light. Do not let anybody rob you of the gift and the treasure of your faith and your dignity and your love.”

Speaking directly to each young individual, Bishop Perez said that many today say “young people are losing their faith … (But) I look at all of you, and I (say) to myself, ‘They’re wrong. Look around you. They’re wrong.’” 
Several Catholic youths were asked which one of the three themes — blessed, broken and given — they were choosing to pray while at the conference. Alejandra Aguilar, 18, witnesses all three themes involved in her daily life. Blessed because of the health of his family, himself and his friends.

“I just hope I can give everything I can to others for all the things he has blessed me with,” said Aguilar, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “When I think about ‘Broken,’ I think of all the battles he puts in front of you, but he knows you’ll be able to conquer anything that comes your way with his help.”

Aguilar, a son of Mexican immigrants, will be the first in his family to go to college. “I want to give back to the community with the degree I get. I hope to be an immigration lawyer and help people through the immigration process.” 

For 17 year old Logan Struewing, he chose ‘broken” as the theme that resonated most with him. “For me and a lot of people, we all have ways we are broken,” said Struewing, a member of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. “None of us is perfect. God knows we are broken, but he still believes in us, and he still wants us to be the best we can be. That gives me a lot of hope. Even when I’m feeling the lowest I can feel, God is there to pick me back up.”

Maurice Beaulieu, of the Florida Catholic staff in Orlando, contributed to this report.