Teens learn to connect with Christ and others
by Jessica Langdon
You can take the kids out of Kansas, but good luck taking the Kansas out of the kids.
Archdiocesan representatives to this year’s Indianapolis’ National Catholic Youth Conference were proud to share their Sunflower State with, well — everyone.
Sacred Heart Parish of Emporia arrived at the hotel in Indianapolis with several young “farmers” in tow, and “Dorothy” as well — parishioner Abbey Davies dressed for the part right down to her ruby red slippers and basket for Toto.
“I love it because there’s so many Catholics in the United States who just all gather together and celebrate and just have fun together,” she said.
Kids from across the country started networking long before planes or buses delivered them to Indianapolis for the conference, which took place Nov. 17-19.
Excited youth groups counted down the days and weeks on the conference’s Facebook site, and first-timers asked for advice from NCYC veterans.
Attendees were eager to find out the Twitter hash tags for the conference. (Think search word in Google.)
Once at the event, the groups mingled, and the connections between the teens multiplied.
Kids signed each other’s shirts, traded belongings ranging from dog tags and necklaces to jackets and hats, texted each other, and promised to find one another on Facebook.
Everywhere you looked there were new faces to get to know.
“I usually know everybody in Onaga, Kansas,” said St. Vincent de Paul parishioner Matthew Rezac. But it didn’t take him long to meet some people at NCYC. Members of his group wrote their phone numbers on wristbands, then threw them into the crowd, hoping the people who picked them up would text them. By the second night, Matthew had heard from eight, all of whom said they were having fun.
On the second night of NCYC, keynote speaker Bishop Luis Zarama, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Atlanta , discussed how he had witnessed all the teens connecting with each other throughout the day.
He stressed another connection they needed to be thinking about — one that had nothing to do with how many friends they had on Facebook: their connection with Christ.
He called the teens to delve more deeply into what God’s plan is for them.
But the kids were also reminded of their role in the larger church, and how NCYC itself had a far greater reach than just the participants and the downtown area of Indianapolis.
On the first night of the event, Bob McCarty, executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, talked to the youth about the theme of the conference, “Called to Glory.”
He encouraged them to “rejoice proudly,” which he admitted requires some courage, especially in difficult times.
“Let’s commit, you and I, to be people of justice, people of compassion, people of healing,” he said. Because of the live feed that made much of the conference available for streaming, the audience was much larger than the 23,000 people in the stadium, he said.
“Let them look in at us and see 23,000 people who rejoice proudly in the reign of God,” he said. “Let them see the young Catholic Church committed to the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Teens today face a lot of pressures, including peer pressure to drink, have sex and experiment with drugs, said Father Scott Wallisch of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee. While these temptations aren’t new to this generation, he feels that teens might experience greater pressure than in the past.
Add to that mix a lack of balance in their busy lives and an overload of information provided by advances in technology.
Somewhere amid all this, kids need to make time for Jesus. And events like NCYC can help enlighten teens as to the difference a connection with Christ can make.
“It at least introduces them to the idea that if you make time for the Lord — if you get away from your usual busyness — you’re going to find him,” said Father Wallisch.
“He’s going to find you.”