by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Maddie Schmucker finds herself surrounded by fellow Catholics when she attends Mass at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth.
But more than 20,000 all close to her own age?
That’s more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the junior at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth.
Schmucker gathered with roughly 24,000 other teens and their chaperones Nov. 21-23 in Indianapolis for the 2013 National Catholic Youth Conference.
About 600 teens and adults traveled to Indianapolis from parishes and schools across the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
“I just think that the most fun part of NCYC was meeting people from across the nation,” said Schmucker. “It was amazing to see 20,000-30,000 people who all believe in God in one place. What other place can you see so many people praising [God]?”
And when the presenters asked for moments of silence from the throngs of excited teens gathered in Lucas Oil Stadium, “You can kind of see God working in that atmosphere,” said Schmucker.
Those quiet moments also made a major impact on Skylar Ling, who attended NCYC with a group from St. Ignatius Parish at Fort Leavenworth.
Although Ling loved the music, hanging out with friends, and watching the action, the silence with more than 20,000 teens created a lasting memory.
“NCYC opened my faith life and gave me time to experience all the things that Catholics do — but in a fun way,” she said.
The teens joined in eucharistic adoration and had opportunities to go to confession.
They attended huge sessions that brought everyone together and chose from a wide range of smaller breakout sessions.
“My favorite part of NCYC was all of the speakers being able to come out and talk to us about everything,” said Chris Wendt, who was also part of the St. Ignatius group.
Participants discovered plenty of ways to serve others, including making 100,000 meals for people in need in Africa.
Faith Winchel of Queen of the Holy Rosary in Wea and Cari Dodson of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park sat down to fashion a cape for young patients at the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. The hospital offers a cape for some extra comfort to every child who spends a night there.
“I absolutely loved every part of NCYC!” said Winchel. “I met so many young people from all over the United States that share my faith, and it really helped to reassure me that, when I struggle with my faith, I’m not alone.”
Her favorite moment came on the last night of the conference, which culminated in a huge Mass for all of the participants.
“I knelt through 23,000 people receiving Communion, and it is simply amazing to me!” she said.
Sarah Wise, who teaches math and science at Immaculata High School, converted to Catholicism three years ago and always looks for ways to grow in her faith.
Yet she found excuses not to accompany a group to NCYC — until she was signed up this year — and she loved every minute of it.
“As Mass concluded, the joy on each of the kids’ faces was shining Christ, and each person (adults included) walked away from the stadium with a renewed hope,” said Wise.
“As we walked away one last time from the stadium, in the cold, not a single teenager complained. They sang together songs of praise at the top of their lungs, so loud that all could hear it on the streets.
“I can only imagine that this was what it was like for the crowds of people who swarmed Jesus 2,000 years ago.”
While NCYC itself wrapped up with the bus rides home, its impact was just beginning.
“The best part was the opportunity to be with friends and learn about what God wants from us,” said Michael Hollingsworth of St. Ignatius Parish.
“I believe that God puts that flame inside each one of us,” added Schmucker. “At NCYC you can really see that flame can be turned into a roaring fire — not just for weeks or months or years, but for a long time — and also build other people’s flame to be just as strong as ours.”