Non-Catholic youth inspires others at local Catholic youth conference

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From left, Tate Stumpf, Landon Bell and Tyler Pierson from Holy Family Parish-Riverside pose with a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis at the NCYC 2.0 in Iowa City last month.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Twelve-year-old Tyler Pierson of Riverside is not Catholic but started attending youth group events with his best friend Jacob Schneider, a parishioner at Holy Family Parish (Riverside, Richmond and Wellman). Katie Schneider, Jacob’s mom, invited Tyler to join them at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC 2.0) virtual experience in Iowa City, held last month.

“Tyler was skeptical about attending the conference at first. He wasn’t sure what he could gain from it but three nights in a hotel with a pool with his buddies sounded fun enough,” said Katie who assists Angie Goodwin with the youth group at Holy Family Parish. Halfway through the second day of NCYC 2.0, Tyler “started to really pay attention to the speakers and began actively participating in the discussion questions,” she said.

One of the questions asked of participants: “Has there been a time in your life when God has called to you and how did you answer the call?” “Tyler raised his hand and said to the whole group, ‘I think God called me to be brave enough to attend this conference and I said yes and I am here.’”

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“Tyler had no idea how much that act of bravery would snowball and affect the other, older Catholic youths in the group,” said Katie, the business manager at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. Although Tyler cannot receive the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist, she invited him to talk with a priest about anything that might be bothering him and to sit before the Blessed Sacrament to pray.

“During reconciliation and adoration, Tyler was one of the first youths to go up to sit and speak with one of the priests.” Other youths took notice. Some knew Tyler was not Catholic. One youth told Katie, “I saw Tyler go up and sit down with the priest and I thought to myself, if he can be brave enough to lean into his faith, there is no reason I can’t do that as well.” That youth chose to participate in her first reconciliation since receiving the sacrament in second grade, Katie said.

Tyler says he took a step out of his comfort zone and had a great experience because of it. He even served as a cross bearer at the closing Mass. He said his favorite part of NCYC 2.0 was reconciliation and adoration. “I really felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. I felt peace,” he said.

His favorite speaker was federal bankruptcy judge Thad Collins of St. Thomas More Parish, who spoke about the power of forgiveness after a long-ago classmate accused him of being a bully in junior high. Collins told the NCYC 2.0 audience that he asked for her forgiveness and received it, which he viewed as a blessing. Collins’ talk helped Tyler to realize “you can never forgive yourself if you don’t forgive someone else first … forgiveness can set you free.”

“Seeing Tyler participate in the NCYC experience was incredible to me,” Katie said. “I’ve known Tyler since he and Jacob started elementary school together and love him like he’s one of our own kids. I’ve watched him mature over the last couple years as he started junior high.  He’s a great athlete and an all-around fun kid.  People are just drawn to him because he’s such a warm, funny and lovable kid.”

“One of the things you hope for when you are involved with a youth group is to provide a place where youth want to have fun with each other and maybe learn a little bit more about their faith or at least start to feel comfortable talking about their faith with their peers.”

Katie believes that Tyler’s small group leader, Tanner Knight, “created a safe space to discuss all of the ways that the Holy Spirit is present in our day-to-day lives.” Katie treasures the memory of watching Tyler carrying the cross during the closing Mass. “I don’t know if Tyler realizes how many youth he inspired to lean into their faith a little more.”


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