by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Having gone to a previous National Catholic Youth Conference in 2015, Molly Minihan already knew what she wanted to do this year in Indianapolis.
She wanted to meet other Catholic youths from across the nation, participate in fun activities, listen to inspiring speakers and trade items.
But most of all, she wanted a “God moment.”
“When we go to different events, they’re not very long, so I don’t have a chance to really encounter God,” said Minihan, 17, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Blaine. “I was planning on having my God moment, which I definitely did during eucharistic adoration.”
Minihan was among the 466 high school-age youths and chaperones the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas sent to the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference from Nov. 16-19 in Indianapolis.
The event, which drew more than 20,000 Catholic youth from across the nation, was sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
If anyone knows what NCYC is all about, it’s Rick Cheek, consultant for the archdiocesan office of evangelization and Catholic formation of youth. He’s been to 11 since his first one in 1997.
“It gathers young people from all over the United States — and sometimes the world — to see the ‘big church’ beyond their own parish, encounter Christ, see and hear keynote speakers, and enhance their faith,” said Cheek.
This is all done through keynote addresses, “mega” sessions, breakouts/workshops and fun activities in the Thematic Village. Daily rosaries, daily Mass, the sacrament of reconciliation and eucharistic adoration are also all available.
Rob Stallbaumer, 17, from Holy Family Parish in Eudora, was impressed by the size and diversity of the “big church” that he saw in Indianapolis.
“We saw people from all 50 states,” said Stallbaumer. “I saw people from Hawaii and Alaska, places I’ve never been to and want to go to someday.”
Trading things — hats, bandanas, pins and other trinkets — was a big part of the social scene. Stallbaumer arrived at NCYC with a black hat with different colored horns sticking out of it. Seven or eight trades later, he went home with a shark hat.
Chloe Fischer, 14, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Onaga, was a little nervous about going to Indianapolis because she had never traveled so far and stayed away so long. She got a lot of advice from Minihan, who told her “how wonderful and great it was,” and a lot of support from her fellow conference- goers.
“I expected that I would grow in my faith and get closer to God. But actually going there, it was way better than I expected,” said Fisher. “I was glad I went.”
Like Minihan promised, there was plenty of fun.
“There was a big place where you could trade items [with other youth] and there were vendors,” said Fischer. “There were two big containers filled with Styrofoam. You’d climb in there and race other people to find things. And they also had workshops that would explain things about the faith.”
One workshop presenter used a fidget spinner, with its three moving parts, as an allegory for the Holy Trinity.
“My favorite things [of NCYC] were confession and [eucharistic] adoration,” said Fischer. “It was one of the most open and honest confessions I ever had. The priest was nice. He told me how much Jesus loved me. And after [eucharistic] adoration, I felt so close to God, it was amazing.”
Like Minihan, Jo Dorrell was a NCYC veteran who wanted to go again.
“I wanted to go a second time because, when I went the first time, I had the biggest Jesus encounter that I ever had,” said Dorrell, 18, who went with the youth group from St. Boniface Parish in Scipio. “That was pretty special. All of us as a group came together, and the focus on our faith really meant a lot.”
Before her group left home, they — like many other groups — purchased things to trade. They chose clothespins, with little messages inscribed, that they would give and trade. They also prayed the rosary a lot on the bus ride to Indianapolis.
Two things especially moved Dorrell.
One was seeing more than 20,000 Catholic youth at eucharistic adoration in complete silence.
The other was an inspiring talk by Allison Donohue, archdiocesan pro-life consultant, and Father Larry Bowers, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Osage City and St. Patrick Parish in Scranton.
Their talk, entitled “Keep Your Faith Off My Body,” was a powerful message of personal testimony and teachings from St. John Paul II’s theology of the body.
“[Donohue’s] talk was really special to me,” said Dorrell. “I think I really needed to hear it. I think every kid needed to hear it. It’s something a lot of kids question, ‘Why can’t I do that?’
“They explained so clearly how God’s love is more important than any of your desires,” she said. “They explained really well how it’s important to be smart with your body in a faithful way.”
The way the youths responded to their talk revealed to Donohue how much many of them were hurting.
“We had a bunch of kids come up and talk to us afterward,” said Donohue. “I think I was most struck by how much kids want to hear this message and be able to talk to someone about it. We had kids waiting 20 or 30 minutes to talk to us. A couple of them came up to us, crying, talking about their lives.
“There’s so much brokenness in the area of sexuality in teenagers.”
If any of Fischer’s peers asked her advice about NCYC, she would simply say this: Go.
“I’d really encourage them to go,” said Fischer. “At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to go. But afterward, I felt so happy with myself. It’s like restarting.”
“After you go, you want to go again,” she said. “It was life changing to see how many people my age are so strong in the faith. It was pretty amazing.”