CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
In a stadium filled with students from across the country, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar built on the 50-yard line of the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Friday, Nov. 22.
It started as a trickle: a few groups of students rose from their seats and walked down the stands toward the field. The rest of the stadium in darkness, spotlights illuminated the Blessed Sacrament for the duration of adoration. Then, hundreds of students started pouring onto the field, swarming the stage that held the altar.
The scene of thousands of teens running to Jesus moved fellow students, chaperones and priests alike.
Minutes before adoration began, Mark Hart gave a keynote address that night at the National Catholic Youth Conference. During his talk, Hart described a scene from attending Mass with his family. As he proceeded to receive the Eucharist, holding his 3-year-old son, he turned to start walking back to his pew. Then, his 3-year-old shouted over his shoulder back toward the priest, “I need Jesus!”
Reflecting on this simple phrase, Hart said, helps lead one into honest prayer with God. The students responded to Hart’s testimony by acting on that need — they rushed toward the Blessed Sacrament to try to be as close as possible to Jesus in the Eucharist.
The night included the Sacrament of Reconciliation offered in the 200 level of the stadium, and testimonies from fellow students offered in front of the 20,000 teenagers gathered, as well as accompanying youth ministers, chaperones and priests.
More than 230 students from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee attended the conference this year from Nov. 21-23. The three-day conference at Lucas Oil Stadium and the attached Indianapolis Convention Center featured keynote addresses from international speakers, a night of adoration and a vigil Mass to conclude the festivities. “This conference has been really eye-opening and everyone has been so fun and welcoming,” said student Mitch Godec.
“Coming to a conference that has just Catholic members and seeing everyone just do the sign of the cross together, just something as simple as that, has made a really big impact on me,” William Dettlaff, another student on the trip, said.
NCYC is hosted by National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, based in Washington, D.C.
Some of the speakers included Sr. Bethany Madonna, Sr. Miriam Heidland, Fr. John Burns, Sarah Swofford, Jason Evert, Paul Kim and Emily Wilson. The talk titles ranged from social media to authentic masculinity and femininity, including “I would rather not make noise: quiet faith for the introvert” and “Joy: is there an app for that?”
“The speakers’ messages are just so inspiring and can be really life-changing, and it is really inspiring to see 20,000 Christians here wanting to make a difference and loving Jesus, and just having fun together,” said student Skylar Kumprey.
Discussions and sessions on race, pro-life apologetics and a teaching Mass were also breakout options for the teens that attended.
The purpose of the conference was summed up in the theme: Blessed, Broken and Given.
The students at the conference experienced a surprise video from the Holy Father and a session of Lectio Divina on the first day, a time of prayer with the Scriptures and 20,000 of their peers. The first day also included a keynote address from Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.
Her story of courage and forgiveness moved many students, and hearing her perseverance in the midst of horrendous tragedy inspired them to start praying the rosary.
“I think it is really important to have this experience where everyone can openly talk about their faith and talk about how they feel about it without it being awkward or weird,” Claire Mooney, a student participant, said.
The conference was also punctuated with moments of fun as the students traded items and clothespins and wore crazy hats — bacon hats, putting green hats and even priests sporting hats with blinking lights.
The beauty of so many people coming together to worship was powerful. “I just am so amazed the power of prayer and the amount of people that have come together, 20,000 strong, in just one place at Mass,” said Tom Nass, a chaperone.
“I think it is really important for teens to get involved in that and especially at a younger age, when they are more formative in their faith. The power of prayer and community they are building there sets a strong foundation for the future,” he said.
In Lucas Oil Stadium, “Makers of Moments” is plastered in big white letters against a Colts blue background amidst a place which typically hosts football games, conference championships and concerts. Instead, the space hosted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and students, chaperones and national speakers praising God’s name during NCYC.
The moments made in the stadium were filled with incense, prayers and praise and worship songs.