National youth conference emphasizes all are ‘called’

Four buses packed with about 200 youth and adults, including five priests, from the Diocese of St. Cloud traveled to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis where they joined 25,000 Catholic youth from around the country.

After completing his visit to the annual bishops’ conference in Baltimore, Bishop Donald Kettler flew to Indianapolis to meet the St. Cloud group where they participated in a mix of prayer, worship, music and breakout sessions.

The event Nov. 16-18 featured speakers including Chris Stefanick and Sister Miriam Heidland and popular recording artists TobyMac and Matt Maher. The theme of NCYC was “Called.”

“I was so impressed by the number of youth who attended and their enthusiasm and their love for the faith,” Bishop Kettler said.

Kent Schmitz, diocesan consultant for youth faith formation, explained that each keynote speaker followed the theme, focusing on five ways one can be “called:”

  • Called to follow Christ through the Cross.
  • Called to be more through the example of the saints.
  • Called to prayer through the Word and Eucharist.
  • Called to serve in discipleship and sharing of gifts, and
  • Called to celebrate and live our rich faith as a reflection of Christ.

“NCYC 2017 was one of the best gatherings of Catholic youth and their leaders I have participated in,” Schmitz said.

“The flow of the event and spirit of our young church is a wonderful opportunity to share faith that allows our participants to witness the Body of Christ in an extraordinary way,” he said. “It is an awesome experience to be with 25,000 other Catholics on fire to answer the call to discipleship in Christ.”

United by faith

As part of the fun at NCYC, some youth groups have adopted the tradition of bringing funny hats to wear and exchange with other dioceses. Father Don Wagner, pastor of the parishes of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Isanti, Christ the King in Cambridge and Sts. Peter and Paul in Braham, dons a “Nemo” hat with youth from the St. Cloud Diocese. (Submitted photo)

When the parishes in Becker and Big Lake fused into one parish community with two campuses — named Mary of the Visitation — more than the parishes came together. There also was a beautiful blending of family.

Happenstance brought together Jim and Mary Ellen Richter. Jim was attending Mass in Becker with his daughter Sydney, while Mary Ellen was attending Mass in Big Lake with her three children, Catie, Rachel and Richard Eisenreich. Through the merger, the two met and married.

“Our shared faith has been a great unity builder for our entire family,” Mary Ellen said.

So when the opportunity arose to attend NCYC this year, Mary Ellen decided to go with Rachel and Sydney. She had gone with Catie four years ago, before meeting Jim and Sydney.

“It was so hopeful,” Mary Ellen said of the trip. “It almost brings me to tears. It was amazing to see their faith growing in such a beautiful way.”

In addition to family bonding time, Mary Ellen was moved by the impressive crowd of youth.

“The music was absolutely wonderful, but the Mass and the prayer times were amazing. To see that many young people all participating in worship really was overwhelming and inspiring,” she said.

She was especially touched by the testimony of Sister Miriam James Heidland.

“She has a great combination of humor and wit that really spoke to me,” Mary Ellen said. “She included sports and real life experiences in her talk. She also gave us practical ways to hear and be obedient.”

Sydney, 16, said her favorite part of NCYC was the Matt Maher concert.

“His songs are so inspiring and you could just feel the emotion in the arena. It was amazing to be singing ‘Lord, I Need You’ with 25,000 other teens,” she said.

“My NCYC experience taught me a lot about my faith. I think the most important thing is to not be afraid of anything because not only is God with me and supporting me, but all the other 25,000 people at NCYC are supporting me as well.”

For Rachel, 18, Mass was “amazing.”

Father Ken Popp, pastor of the parishes of St. Joseph in Pierz and St. Michael in Buckman, was moved by the unprompted expression of faith by Glenn Garcia, 4, who extended his arms in blessing over the NCYC participants. Father Popp snapped this photo of the young Garcia who attended the event with his family in Indianapolis Nov. 15-18. The Garcias are members of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo courtesy of Father Ken Popp)

“There were 25,000 Catholic youth all participating and on fire for Jesus. We got to clap and stand up and you could tell everyone was having fun. And when Archbishop [Jose] Gomez [of Los Angeles] gave the homily, the stadium was silent, every word being brought in and listened to.

“Then, when the Mass was over, all the priests and bishops walked out as the whole stadium sang and danced around to the closing song,” Rachel said.

“NCYC taught me that we are the young church, but also and more importantly we are present church. The youth of the church is the now,” she added. “As youth we have just as much power as adults to bring people to Christ, to lead in church and to build up our relationship with Christ.”

Priest perspectives

For Benedictine Father Sudhansu Kumar, a priest of Bangalore, India, who is serving the parishes of St. Paul and Our Lady of Angels in Sauk Centre and St. Alexius in West Union, this was his first time attending NCYC and his first time at a youth event of this magnitude.

“I have never experienced such a great event so far in my life,” he said. “This event made my prayer life strong, and I’m going deeper in my priestly prayer life,” he said. “The deep faith of youth in Jesus really inspired my life. It taught me that we should serve people willingly and we are called to be sacred and holy. I will become a more spiritual person day by day. My heart really enjoyed all the speakers who preached that we should always depend on God for all things.”

Father Ken Popp also attended NCYC this year, bringing with him six youth from his parishes of St. Joseph in Pierz and St. Michael in Buckman, as well as Julie Laflamme, director of religious education for the parishes.

He also was energized by the sights and sounds of the youth finding joy and humor in their shared faith. He delighted in the tradition of groups bringing unique hats to wear and trade with youth from other dioceses.

“It showed me that we can bring humor into our faith. The kids were enjoying themselves but it was also a faith experience,” he said.

What stood out the most, he said, was the 10-15 minutes of complete silence as every knee dropped to the floor in front of the monstrance during eucharistic adoration.

“You could have heard a pin drop,” Father Popp said. “That’s something I will never forget. It was a nice moment of our Catholic faith, a positive moment that reflected great hope for the church.”

To keep the experience alive, Father Popp preached about his time at NCYC in his homily on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 26.

“Every time they did something at NCYC, there was always a cross leading the way,” he said. “I connected that to Christ who died on the cross for us. I shared with the people that this, too, was a hopeful sign for us that the church is alive and vibrant.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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