A Lasting Hope: Encountering Christ at NCYC

Last weekend more than 24,000 teens, youth leaders and other diocesan representatives gathered to worship God, encounter his love and enjoy a time of fellowship and communion.

Saints and adoration were hallmarks of this year’s NCYC.
Saints and adoration were hallmarks of this year’s NCYC. (photo: https://www.instagram.com/nfcym)

Sometimes good things come in small packages — but they can also be found in large quantities! Such was the case last weekend in Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), where more than 24,000 teens, youth leaders and other diocesan representatives gathered to worship God, encounter his love and enjoy a time of fellowship and communion.

Having never previously attended NCYC, I was wondering (as an introvert!) what the event would entail. I can honestly say that my heart was deeply blessed. I had countless conversations with teens searching for truth, healing and freedom. A desire for a deeper relationship with God was written on their faces as they poured out their hearts, hurts and hopes. Many times they feel gripped by anxiety as they navigate everything from the pressure to be perfect at school and on social media to dealing with situations at home to grappling with the deeper questions of what it means to be happy in a world of hookups and instant gratification. At the heart, they are looking for something more. Many teens struggle with addictions and depression, but they are aching and hoping for a full, vibrant life. God is calling them all to himself because he loves them.

It is always a deep gift to be able to share the Gospel with the sons and daughters of God. Although the examples and stories change in my talks, the message that resounds in the depths of my soul is that we are loved by God, that nothing we have ever done or has been done to us will keep him from loving us, and that he ardently desires to heal our sin, wounds and shame. God created us to share in his own blessed, abundant life.  He aches to set us free. It was beautiful to see so many priests present at NCYC hearing confessions, talking with teens and offering Mass. The adoration chapel set up in the convention center provided a place of quiet and rest in the healing presence of Jesus Christ himself. More than 30 bishops from dioceses around the nation were present throughout the weekend to encounter all of the participants and bring encouragement to their flocks. It was truly a blessed time.

A word to all of the youth ministers and chaperones that accompanied the teens to NCYC: I am so edified and inspired by you. I really believe that you are the real heroes. As speakers, we might come to a conference and give a couple of talks, sowing seeds in the soil of the soul, but the youth ministers are the ones who are on the front lines, journeying in the day-to-day lives of these precious young people. They are the ones who water the ground, spend countless hours tilling the soil and continually nourish these souls. Conferences are important and a great boost of encouragement and blessing, but the effects of a conference last much longer when the teens go home to a lively and active parish youth group. Investing in our youth is one of the best things we can do as a Church. Thank you to all of you who so willingly and selflessly serve our youth. You are a great treasure.

There are moments from NCYC that I will always remember: a stadium full of Catholic teens in utter silence and prayer, the tears of a young man as he spoke out some of his deepest pain, and the joy of laughter among people, young and old, from across the United States. Being at NCYC was a true gift. May all of us continue to grow ever more deeply in the reality that we are ardently loved by God, who stops at nothing to set us free. Our deepest hope is in him, and he is calling each one of us to more, to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

In Advent, we await the coming of Jesus at Christmastime.

What Is Advent Anyway?

EXPLAINER: Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting and longing for the Messiah.