By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Becky Jefford, a mom and chaperone with St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt, thought she was going to cry as she witnessed 12,000 youths at the National Catholic Youth Conference celebrate their faith. “There’s just love and nobody cares about what people think. They’re just happy to be there and I love that freedom they express toward Jesus.”
She participated in NCYC with the youngest of her three daughters, Kerrigan, and “loved every minute!” The two Jeffords were among nearly 440 youths and adults from 20 parishes throughout the Davenport Diocese who participated in NCYC Nov. 16-18 at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
“NCYC was a great trip, presenting us with the opportunity to grow in our local community but then recognizing that we’re a part of something much larger,” said Father Andrew Rauenbuehler, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. “This was evidenced with our diocesan-wide Mass upon arrival and then throughout the weekend at the keynotes, evening of adoration, and closing Mass.”
“For me, feeling part of a community of believers is so important for sparking new growth in the faith. I was especially blessed to be with such a great group of adult chaperones; we laughed a ton and had good fun over the weekend and I think were able to show our students the importance of faith community,” added Father Rauenbuehler.
The priest, who also serves as chaplain and religion teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, appreciated an observation that Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat of the New York Archdiocese made during the closing Mass. “He mentioned that Jesus used 12 apostles 2,000 years ago and a culture changed. What can we do with 12,000?”
Father Rauenbuehler said he heard “a lot of confessions (the line was always long).” Youths also shared with him their highlights from NCYC, including eucharistic adoration and the closing Mass homily. “There was a definite movement of the Holy Spirit at the closing Mass, which was a fitting way for us to board the bus and head back home … to get to work!”
“During adoration, I felt this great sense of peace coming over me,” Mary Huber, an Assumption High School student and member of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport said. “It was beautiful to see all the thousands of people in the arena that just went dead silent. There was a moment of silence when a baby cried.”
“We were talking about this during youth group and it was just so beautiful to see — it was a baby of all things. Like Jesus was coming to us through those sounds. It was so cool to see all the silence and all of the beauty of adoration and see how God was working through it in those times.”
Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat led adoration that night and did a good job of unpacking this form of prayer, said Trevor Pullinger, diocesan director of Faith Formation and Catechesis coordinator. The bishop’s explanation included touches of humor, which his audience appreciated. “Adoration was a powerful experience for a lot of people,” Pullinger said.
All of NCYC was a powerful experience for Zoey Dennler of St. James Parish in Washington, who attended her first NCYC two years ago. “My mom kind of pushed me. I really loved it, so I came back.” This time, she “loved hearing the keynote speakers and singing worship songs with everybody (in the stadium). It’s really powerful for me.”
Anna Curiel of St. Mary Parish in Albia also attended NCYC two years ago. She, too, had a great experience making friends, learning from breakout sessions and connecting with others during Mass and other large group events in the stadium. She was eager to experience that again — and to participate in the hat-trading tradition. “I really want to get a cheese hat,” she said while wearing a taco cat hat she acquired at the last NCYC.
Hat trading is a treasured tradition at NCYC. “It’s just a unique confluence of culture and young people’s energy for sharing who they are with others,” Pullinger said. “It’s very organic. In a lot of ways, it’s an excuse to start up a conversation with someone you ordinarily wouldn’t start up a conversation with and get to know other people from other groups.”
The fruits of NCYC
“What makes NCYC special is not just the experience that the youths have but it is a real training ground for youth ministers or even volunteers who have not planned trips before. I know NCYC gets a lot of flak for the cost involved and in some cases the fruit of it is called into question,” Pullinger continued. “When I look at the experience as a whole, I see an opportunity to build community around an experience. It takes real intentional effort from the adults accompanying the youths who are attending and when done well, produces amazing fruits.”
Pullinger said he knows of people who attended NCYC initially skeptical about their faith and who have gone on to serve the Church as religious education directors, for example. “I know of people who make vocational discernment to the priesthood or even religious life sparked by the intensity of this pilgrimage. I even know of people who met their future spouse at NCYC and live a holy and sacramental marriage. NCYC doesn’t always have the immediate fruits we look for but it often is the start of something new working in the hearts of young people.”
The biggest take-away from NCYC for newcomer Father Dominic Nguyen was a remark that speaker Father John Kartje made. Pointing his finger at a picture of Jesus praying in the garden, Father Kartje said, “If we take this man seriously, we will find the way.”
“This idea stuck with me because it has evoked thoughts regarding my relationship with Jesus in my priesthood,” said Father Nguyen, parochial vicar of Divine Mercy Parish-Burlington/West Burlington and St. Mary Parish-Dodgeville. “From this idea, I have asked myself at the beginning and the end of my day: ‘Will I take Jesus seriously today?’ ‘Did I take Jesus seriously today?’ These are challenging questions. I know the answer should be, ‘Yes.’ But I am far from making that a reality in my life. Father Kartje reminded me that I need to be honest with myself about my relationship with Jesus, and that I am called to do whatever he wants me to do because he is the way, the truth and the life. Without him, I can do nothing.”
(Sarah Callahan contributed to this story.)