My experience at the National Catholic Youth Conference
National Catholic Youth Conference – November 19-21, 2015
Article by Joyce Bermejo
My experience at the National Catholic Youth Conference
INDIANAPOLIS — Flying all the way from California, my postulant companions and I, along with several Salesian sisters, travelled to Indiana for the much awaited National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). We joined our fellow Salesian sisters from the Eastern province who were also there to take part in this amazing youth-filled event.
The conference began on Thursday night, Nov. 19, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Upon entering the stadium, I was taken aback by the sight of 23,000 young people who filled the stadium with noise and excitement. Immediately I noticed that almost everyone was wearing some sort of funny hat, both youths and adults alike, some were animals, some vegetables, many with blinking lights, I suppose it was a fun way for these groups to find one another amidst the crowd.
The theme of the conference was “Here I am, Lord” (Aquí estoy, Señor). This message was presented in various ways through songs, dances, and skits animated by youth leaders, in English and Spanish. The first keynote speaker on Thursday night, Fr. Leo Patalinghug, energetically spoke of the Sign of the Cross as the most powerful prayer. In a relatable and engaging fashion, Fr. Leo went on to talk about what we can do to avoid sin and temptation, using his martial arts skills as a visual aid. The young people were visibly engaged by this energetic first keynote demonstrated by their resounding laughter and seen in the sea of awe-struck faces.
In addition to the amazing speakers, popular Catholic musicians, such as Matt Maher, Steve Angrisano, Audrey Assad, Tony Melendez, and many other great artists, led the crowd to worship and praise the Lord at several key moments in the conference. Some of these key moments included Eucharistic Adoration on Friday night.
Before Eucharistic Adoration began, Jackie Francois said, “God is working in our hearts even though we are just sitting there in His presence. Just like when we go outside and the feel the sun’s effect on our skin, so does Adoration have an effect on us. The change happens inside.” This prelude had the effect of preparing everyone for recollection and an encounter with the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. In those few precious minutes, it was truly amazing to see thousands of young people adoring the Lord in silence and reverence.
Speaking of young people, the Salesian family’s youth-centered charism was well-represented at the conference by the Salesians of Don Bosco and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. As one religious family, the Salesians had a merchandise and free photo booth section where conference attendees could have their photo taken with Salesian saints. Those of us in formation enjoyed dressing up and speaking of Salesian saints such as St. Don Bosco, St. Mary Mazzarello, Bl. Laura Vicuña, and Mary Help of Christians. Salesian priests, brothers, sisters, novices, pre-novice, postulants and aspirants were a joyful presence in the merchandise and vocation booths.
All throughout both days of the conference, we interacted with young people from all over the U.S. engaging them through games and stories about the Salesian family. These interactions brought much laughter and new friendships, as well as potential vocation interests.
As the source and summit of our Catholic faith, the Holy Mass was the climax of the conference. Mark Hart, one the keynote speakers, passionately related to the audience that the Holy Mass is where “God wants us to bring our sufferings to the altar of sacrifice.” Mark Hart truly went to the heart of our faith, speaking of the sacrifice of Jesus, His suffering and death, which is re-enacted every time Holy Mass is celebrated. “We look to Christ and see the answer [to life’s deepest questions],” Mark Hart even went on to say that when we go up to receive communion, we must imagine ourselves, our whole being, as that sacrifice laid down atop the altar table. Indeed, God is able to transform our entire being, with all of our weaknesses and sinfulness, into a whole new creation.
Apropos to the message of the conference, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, a Salesian, spoke about Salesian holiness in a workshop I was blessed to attend. In the workshop, he exhorted the young people to consider that “It is God’s will that we become saints.”
This call to holiness powerfully tied in to the NCYC theme of “Here I am Lord” as it opened up the way for young people to become saints by living the everyday in an extraordinary way. He encouraged the young people to follow Don Bosco’s way of holiness which consists of being joyful, having a personal relationship with Jesus, a sense of belonging to the Church, and anticipating the needs of others.
Indeed, the keynote speakers and presentations at NCYC were chosen in view of the “young Church.” The emcees and several other speakers would constantly refer to the predominantly youthful audience as the “young Church.”
As a postulant, I saw the conference from a fresh new perspective, much different than that of a youth participant. Being used to attending conferences, I reflected upon the fact that I was no longer merely a participant, but actually someone who was part of the Salesian congregation; representing the institute in my every way of being.
The Salesian sisters, my companions, and I, were witnesses to the young people of the joy of consecrated life. It was interesting to be on the “other side,” to be the person who shared about the religious family I belonged to. Attending NCYC as a postulant really helped me to feel the sense of belonging to the Salesian family. NCYC also showed me the bigger Catholic family, where there is a great hope being entrusted to the young Church of our generation.