GREECE — More than 25,000 youths from around the country — including more than 400 from the Diocese of Rochester — will pack Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium this fall, not for a football game but to pray, learn and grow in their faith.
The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), which will be held Nov. 16-18, “is a gathering of the young church,” explained Linda Mehlenbacher, director of the Diocese of Rochester’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. The event features a variety of workshops, liturgies, performances and activities designed to help high-school students celebrate and grow more deeply in their faith. Sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, the event has been held biannually since 1991 and has been held in Indianapolis since 2011.
This year’s theme is Called/Llamados and features such Catholic speakers as internationally acclaimed author and speaker Chris Stefanick; Sister Miriam Heidland from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity; and Father Joseph A. Espaillat II, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. The youths will have the opportunity to attend concerts by Christian hip-hop recording artist TobyMac and Catholic recording artist Matt Maher, who has played at World Youth Day in Krakow and Rio de Janerio. In addition, there will be daily Mass and opportunities for the youths to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. The conference also will feature adoration and the procession of the Blessed Sacrament from St. John the Evangelist Church across the street to the Indiana Convention Center, where many of the NCYC activities will be held.
The Diocese of Rochester has a total of 445 youths and chaperones from 38 parishes attending the conference this year. Mehlenbacher said the group will be one of the largest to attend.
The youths and chaperones will travel to Indianapolis by bus on Nov. 15 and will return home early in the morning Nov. 19. Each teen is responsible for paying for his or her own trip, but many parishes do fundraising events to help offset the cost for the conference, Mehlenbacher said. For instance, youths from St. Charles Borromeo and St. Mark parishes in Greece came together for a car wash at Rockcastle Florist on Long Pond Road Sept. 10 to raise money for their NCYC trip.
In addition to some last-minute fundraising, the youths also are preparing spiritually for the trip, Mehlenbacher said. Some of the parishes have been holding retreats or are meeting regularly with the youths to prepare them for NCYC. Don Smith, diocesan coordinator of sacramental catechesis and family life, put together 10 sessions for youths plus activities for youth ministers to help them understand what a pilgrimage is and how to prepare for NCYC.
In addition to the preparation being done in the parishes, all of the youths attending the conference, along with parents and chaperones, will attend a diocesanwide NCYC Pilgrim Day Oct. 29 at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Gates. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano will celebrate Mass during the event, which Mehlenbacher said also will celebrate the diocese’s sesquicentennial, the Year of the Eucharist and World Youth Day. Following the Mass, the youths will participate in interactive games and activities, similar to the ones they’ll experience at NCYC.
The youths also will be given special sesquicentennial T-shirts and buttons as well as light-up birthday hats to wear at the conference.
As they sorted through those T-shirts and hats at the Pastoral Center in Gates Sept. 12, Mehlenbacher and Leslie Barkin, diocesan coordinator of youth and young-adult ministry, who have both been to numerous NCYC conferences, are looking forward to the upcoming conference and the opportunities it will provide to diocesan youths.
“It (NCYC) is a great experience of the universal church and our international church for our young people to see. That their Catholicism is far larger than the people they see in their parish every day,” Barkin said. “When they walk into that stadium of 20,000 Catholics and see how many priests, bishops process in for the liturgy, that is just an overwhelming experience for them.”
“To this day, when I walk into the stadium (and see the thousands of youths), I get goosebumps,” Mehlenbacher added.