by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Last week’s National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) was a time of grace and blessing for the more than 21,000 teens who came from all over the United States to Kansas City. I was very proud of our staff and the legion of adult volunteers from our Archdiocese teaming with the staff and volunteers of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese to extend the very best of Midwestern hospitality and to create an environment that was so conducive for our young people to hear God speak his gospel of love to their hearts.
It was inspiring for me to concelebrate the closing Mass in the Sprint Center with thousands of Catholic youth enthusiastically gathered around the Lord’s altar to give him thanks for the blessing of the past few days.
I was edified by our priests who heard confessions for several hours each day. Many of our priests expressed to me how touched they were by the sincerity, the humility and the faith of the young people so honestly and trustingly surrendering their sins to the Lord and opening their hearts to receive the comfort of his mercy and the power of his grace.
Living up to the Kansas City reputation of always being up-to-date, I was proud that, for the first time, live video of the conference was being streamed to more than 75 countries with tens of thousands of people from other parts of the United States, as well as from other nations, being able to participate in NCYC via the Internet. It was gratifying to hear about the text messages from American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who were receiving encouragement and strength from the conference.
I was encouraged to witness the receptive response of NCYC participants when Jason and Christalina Everett spoke frankly about the tragic consequences of the selfish indulgence of personal pleasure that so many in our culture mistake for love. It was beautiful to see our youth embrace the challenge to live the virtues of chastity and modesty that are essential for authentic love. The enthusiasm of our youth to strive to live lives of heroic, self-sacrificing love was palpable.
However, the high point of the gathering occurred for me on Friday morning. Bishop Finn and I had requested that NCYC try something new in Kansas City. We asked that one of the general sessions with all 21,000 assembled teens be devoted to a catechesis on the beauty and the power of the Eucharist followed by eucharistic adoration, culminating with a eucharistic procession through the streets of downtown Kansas City. At previous conferences there had been optional sessions with eucharistic adoration, but never in a general session and never with a eucharistic procession through the streets of the city.
It was an amazing experience. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Houston-Galveston, gave a profound yet engaging teaching on the gift of intimacy with Jesus that is offered through the Eucharist. It was absolutely stunning to share with 21,000 lively and naturally raucous teens several minutes of silent prayer and adoration of Jesus uniquely present in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the adult volunteers shed tears as they witnessed the devotion of our young people.
One of the staff members from Kansas City, Mo., related an encounter with a bread salesman who was making his normal delivery to one of the restaurants in the Power and Light District. He inquired of her, “What is going on?” She told him that 20,000 Catholic teens were participating in a eucharistic procession. He said to her proudly, “I’m Catholic!” as he set aside his bread trays and knelt in adoration as the Blessed Sacrament passed by. I saw many of the police officers that were assisting with security and traffic control along the route make the sign of the cross as the Eucharist passed by.
I am confident that most every young person who participated in NCYC had their faith strengthened. Hopefully, each one of them returned home with a deeper experience of the love of Jesus for them and a greater love for the church.
One of the youth participants was asked by an innocent passerby, “What are you protesting?” She proudly responded, “We aren’t protesting anything! We are proclaiming our love for Jesus!”
Gazing back from the vantage point of Bartle Hall, I will never forget the image of 21,000 young people reverently following Jesus through the streets of downtown Kansas City. I trust that Catholic youth from across the nation were truly blest by their participation in NCYC. Regardless of whatever each NCYC participant received, they left a lasting impression of the vibrancy and vitality of the faith of young Catholics. I am grateful for their visit to our metropolitan community. They renewed and strengthened my hope in the truth that Jesus is alive and well in the hearts of our young people!
The theme of the conference was: “Christ Reigns!” Jesus definitely, as much as possible this side of heaven, ruled the streets of downtown Kansas City for three days.
There have been some studies of how much better athletic teams performed after Pope John Paul II visited their cities. After the Holy Father visited St. Louis in January 1999, the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl in January 2000. I was reminded of this when the Chiefs upset the Steelers on Sunday.
With God, they say, there are no coincidences.