Youth show up in force to take their faith seriously
by Jessica Langdon
What does it sound like when you gather 23,000 people — most of them excited high-school students — into the stadium slated to hold the next Super Bowl?
Yes, that’s right, at least for a few memorable minutes.
Not a cough, not a whisper, not a sniffle, not a rustle shattered the hush that fell over Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis the night of Nov. 18.
It was “sacred silence.”
And to Austin Schmitz of St. Michael Parish in Axtell, it was very moving.
“I was surprised to see that we could get 23,000 people that quiet for that long a time,” he said.
It was part of an ancient form of prayer called “lectio divina” that focuses on reading, meditation, contemplation and acting on Scripture.
It was included to help each attendee of the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference see how God is calling them to a deeper connection.
The silence was just one sign of how seriously the teens took the NCYC experience.
It was easy during these three days to talk about God and faith.
“You see so many people that believe the same as you,” said Carissa Mikesic of the Holy Angels youth group in Basehor. Back home, you can talk to family and other people you know are Catholic. You can’t always do that everywhere, she said.
“Here, you know everybody is [Catholic],” said Carissa.
“I just think it really changes you to see all those people and feel the love that you feel here,” said Colleen McInerney of Curé of Ars Parish in Leawood.
Kelseigh Figgs of Mater Dei Parish in Topeka has come across some misconceptions and responses to her faith that aren’t always welcoming. Not at NCYC, though.
“I think it shows you that you’re not alone in your faith,” said Kelseigh. “There are other teenagers out there.”
“Here,” said Colleen, “everyone’s so into it. You can walk down the street and talk to anybody and yell across the street at everyone and no one thinks it’s different.”
In fact, the groups did plenty of calling back-and-forth across the street. They shouted out their hometowns. If one person called out “N-C!,” a chorus of “Y-C!” was sure to follow.
You can feel the love and acceptance here, Colleen said.
“Everybody’s here to actually focus on God, and it’s just a really incredible feeling,” said Stephen Schmidt, also of Mater Dei.
Tommy Finn of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee knows that sharing faith isn’t something people always associate with high school students.
“I think it’s really cool to see everybody — especially our age — coming together to get to learn about their faith, to gain in their faith,” he said. He thinks this experience will help him share his faith with others.
“It was definitely life-changing to see what a big community it was,” said Katie Peerenboom of Mater Dei. “It wasn’t just older people. There were kids who were really excited about their faith.”
As the saying goes, there’s strength in numbers, and plenty of people noticed that at NCYC.
One of the things Matt Tobaben of St. Matthew Parish in Topeka most looked forward to at NCYC was “being around 20,000 other Catholics just praising God at the same time.”
Even adults were affected by the power in the numbers.
Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said he was moved by the magnitude of it the first night he walked into Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It felt like an event that was beyond all of us,” he said of the first general session that gathered every group together.
“There’s an enthusiasm — this rowdiness,” he said. “But it’s tempered by a kind of respect for each other. They seem to be reaching out to kids from different communities and talking and sharing.
“So it’s nice to see how various Christian, Catholic kids from around the country can get along and how they can share their faith with each other.”
Ashlynn Lipnicky of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor enjoyed hearing other young Catholics’ ideas.
It gives you “a whole different look on everything,” she said.
It also affects how you view your own life.
You come away, said Ashlynn, “really grateful for everything you have.”