A sea of teenagers filled the floor and first level of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Singing and cheering was constant as the music and lighting on the stage in the middle of the stadium matched the excitement in the air.
As the 200 teens and their adult chaperones from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee entered the stadium on the night of Nov. 16, some were awe-struck, some were filled with a burst of energy, but all were ready to immerse themselves in the three-day experience of the National Catholic Youth Conference.
“It’s something you can’t even explain,” said Madi Green, who came with teens from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Random Lake. “Seeing kids there that feel the same way you do is amazing.”
The National Catholic Youth Conference, hosted in Indianapolis from Nov. 16-18, gathered about 25,000 high school Catholics from around the country. The three-day conference led young Catholics in prayer and reflection, as well as the opportunity to encounter Jesus while also encountering other young Catholics from around the country who value their faith.
“It gave me confidence,” said Alejandra Razo, who came with a group from the Catholic Community of Waukesha. “I’m not alone in having Catholic faith in a world that doesn’t always accept it.”
The conference started Thursday night with musical entertainment, a keynote speaker and prayer. Friday and Saturday had music, a keynote speaker and prayer to kick off and end the day, with breakout sessions featuring different national Catholic speakers. When not listening to speakers, teens were encouraged to explore different Catholic organizations, do a small service project and create community with one another.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Called” or “Llamados.” Throughout the three days, the teens reflected on how God calls each of them by name, but also calls them to more, to serve and to listen.
Kaleena Montez of the Catholic Community of Waukesha attended NCYC two years ago with the archdiocese. Similar to her experience two years ago, she was blown away by the Eucharistic Adoration on Friday night. The whole stadium, all 25,000 participants, remained silent for a large segment of the hour, but also participated fully in the songs sung during adoration.
The breakout sessions during the middle of day offered talks about a variety of different topics — the Eucharist, faith and romance, the saints, music during Mass, how to place and find God in the world today and much more.
Montez said the biggest lesson she learned at the conference helped solidify what career she is called to pursue. “It’s not just about me, it’s about helping others get to heaven. That’s why I want to go into youth ministry,” she said.
AJ Bichler, who came with a group from Our Lady of Lakes Parish, said he learned more about prayer. While you can’t physically be in contact with God while praying, you have to remove the fear of being vulnerable. “If you open up, God will come to you,” he said.
The weekend ended with Mass presided by Archbishop José Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and several bishops across the different dioceses in the nation. As Archbishop Gomez processed out of the stadium, he turned the light of his cell phone on as did everyone else in the stadium.
The last moments of the conference were filled with light and unity, a reflection of what the future Church will hopefully look like.
See more from the National Catholic Youth Conference in coming issues of the Catholic Herald.