Take it to heart.
That’s the unsolicited advice that I would give to the teens who recently returned from the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. That suggestion,” take it to heart,” also was NCYC’s theme in 1997, the year I attended as a teen.
Two of my coworkers, Gina Capellazzi and Jeff Witherow, covered this year’s conference, traveling with a contingent of more than 400 teens and chaperones from the Diocese of Rochester. Watching Gina and Jeff prepare for their trip unleashed a flood of memories from my own NCYC experience. I remember watching Bishop Matthew Clark wearing a multicolored, propeller-topped beanie while he prayed and talked with a room full of nearly 300 diocesan teens – who also were wearing the propeller-topped beanies.
I remember the brightly colored jester hats – complete with jingle bells on each point – that the teens from my parish wore, and the way we got a kick out of shaking the hats in our hands to make the bells jingle during the consecration, since there were no actual bells near the makeshift altar in the hotel ballroom where we were attending Mass. I remember working alongside my dad, who was one of our chaperones, on a partial Habitat for Humanity build in the conference hall, and I remember our group singing everywhere – on buses, sidewalks and in the hotel.
Those memories make me smile, but when I think about NCYC, what stands out the most is the way it felt to be standing in one place with nearly 18,000 other enthusiastic Catholic teens. That sent a message that not only was it OK to be Catholic, but it was OK – and even cool – to express that faith.
I would encourage this year’s pilgrims to absorb that message along with the other things they learned during this most recent NCYC. Take it to heart.