by Kathryn White
Special to The Leaven
Cheers of “NC!” “YC!” could be heard down the street.
It was only 34 degrees, but the spirit of 11,000 teens from across the nation cheering for Jesus in the name of the National Catholic Youth Conference warmed the hearts of everyone for blocks.
Ablaze, Enciende El Fuego was the theme of NCYC 2021.
Focusing on the second chapter of the book of Acts and the coming of the Holy Spirit, we heard speakers, musicians, priests and bishops inspired us about the Holy Spirit on fire in our lives.
“The fire in my heart burning for the Lord was made even bigger, and I want to share it with others,” commented Juan Vazquez, a senior at Bishop Ward High School and parishioner at Christ the King Parish — both in Kansas City, Kansas.
“I want to be the fire that ignites the hearts of others so that they too may long for intimate relationship with Christ and strive for holiness,” he added.
Juan is discerning a vocation to the priesthood and prays, God-willing, he will be in the seminary next year.
“[The conference] helped with trusting in a God we can not see,” he said, “but knowing that he has a plan for each and everyone of us. And the fact that he woke us up today means he’s not finished with us.”
It has been over 15 years since I, myself, attended an NCYC with my former students. And while so much has changed (dozens of small breakout sessions throughout the conference back then to just a handful dynamic sessions rotating each day), the basics remain: teens dressed in all kinds of crazy hats, shirts, costumes, ANYthing to stand out and be seen.
Isn’t that we all want?
And it is what we heard again and again: The Lord sees YOU. The struggles, the challenges, the need to be seen and heard. And He is there. Through it all.
What’s also different? Technology at every turn.
We’re all attached to our devices — teens are no different. I was inspired by youth ministers and adult chaperones who embraced their culture and gave them challenges: photo contests daily.
Creating rap music about faith; group chats about where to meet when; heads up games and other icebreakers; using their phones as lights to wave during the concerts.
And the technology also created more connectedness.
Teens are reaching out and staying in touch with new friends across the archdiocese, across the country. It gave the teens a glimpse of the concept of universal church.
“The best part of the conference was the diversity, with Spanish lectors, Gospel choirs, rappers and young colored clergy,” Juan reflected.
“Growing up in a predominantly African American parish and being Hispanic,” he continued, “it made me connect to the conference and made it much more impactful, relatable, and influential.
“It was beautiful and amazing to see the young church come together as one.”
“The meaning of Catholic, which is universal, was really shown at this conference,” Juan added. “It was my favorite part to see so many differences come together as one in Jesus Christ.”
Elizabeth, from St. Benedict Parish in Atchison, reflected the same sentiment.
“Hearing the readings in different languages made me realize just how universal the church is,” she said. “I mean, WOW!”
“Getting together with 11,000 other young teens as we sang praise to God, I could really feel the Holy Spirit moving in the young church,” Sarah Humburg reflected.
“Ablaze! Enciende el Fuego!” was the cheer during NCYC 2021.
Like the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples in the Upper Room, it descended and energized 11,000 teens across the nation and especially the group from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Thank God.
For a full album of photos from NCYC, click here.