By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — More than 20,000 Catholic youth from across the country — including the largest contingent in memory from the Archdiocese of Louisville — converged on the sprawling Lucas Oil Stadium and Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Ind., for the National Catholic Youth Conference.
The delegation from the archdiocese was one of the largest to attend the four-day convention with 475 people, including 390 youth, said Dr. Carole Goodwin, director of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese.
Though the group is thought to be the largest the archdiocese has ever taken, Goodwin said it was especially pleasing that the number represented many smaller groups from small to mid-size parishes, including Good Shepherd, St. Bernard and St. Martha churches in Louisville; St. Augustine Church in Lebanon, Ky.; and St. Dominic Church in Springfield, Ky.
This was the second NCYC experience for Ellie DeVries of St. John the Apostle Church in Brandenburg, Ky. DeVries attended the youth conference in 2011 and returned this year in the hope of strengthening her faith.
“At the time (of her first conference) I was looking for God and I found God. Now I have a better understanding of who I am,” said the Meade County High School senior.
DeVries said she returned in particular to hear a talk given by Jason and Crystalina Evert about relationships. The talk — “Love or Lust” — focused on the message of staying abstinent until marriage, DeVries said.
“They talked about how strong a woman can be in the relationship and about the qualities you should look for,” she said.
Teens were able to choose from a plethora of workshops on topics ranging from Internet usage to the sacraments. In addition to the opening and closing Masses, there were opportunities for eucharistic adoration and reconciliation. There also was a “thematic park” with booths set up from various religious orders and organizations.
On the last day of the conference, Goodwin and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz led a workshop for adults called “Their hearts are burning within them. Now what?”
The idea of the workshop was to encourage youth ministers, directors of religious education, adult volunteers and parish priests to empower young people to keep the enthusiasm of the conference going once the teens return home, Goodwin said.
“I hope that adults at NCYC recognize the power that large church events have to infuse an enthusiasm of faith for young people who get to attend,” Goodwin said in an interview prior to the conference.
During the presentation, Goodwin gave the adults a few tips to keep “the wave of enthusiasm” alive once the teens are back home.
She encouraged the adult leaders to ask the teens questions about their experience to learn what speakers or events stood out. She also suggested the adults host a reunion for the high schoolers a few weeks following NCYC to further share their experience.
Goodwin noted that many parishes were instrumental in raising funds for the conference. She said the teens could create a photo display somewhere in the parish to say “thank you” or say a few words about their experience following a Sunday liturgy.
Near the end of the presentation Archbishop Kurtz urged the adults who “walk with the young” to identify young people who are equipped and ready to serve and lead.
“You and I have a responsibility to survey the horizon and say ‘Who is ready?’ ” he said.
Alex Hulse, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church, said he’s taken part in Catholic leadership opportunities before, but has never experienced anything like NCYC.
Maddie Gitschier, also from St. Patrick, said she “met a ton of people” from across the nation at the conference.
Hulse and Gitschier said they hope to incorporate some of the more upbeat music in the liturgies designed for youth at their parish.
“Personally, the music has been kind of cool. It just clicks more with teenagers,” Hulse, a St. Xavier High School sophomore, said of the popular Christian music.
Maria Ramirez, a member of St. Bartholomew Church, said her NCYC experience taught her that God is always present.
“All the stories I heard really hit home,” she said. “They taught us something I can take back to my family.” Ramirez is a junior at Mercy Academy.
Cameron Goodin, who attends St. Ignatius Martyr Church, agreed with Ramirez. He said he learned other people are facing the exact same problems as he is.
Deacon Frank Villalobos, the permanent deacon serving St. Ignatius and St. Bartholomew parishes, said each one of the 15 members of his group, including Ramirez and Goodin, received a scholarship to attend NCYC from the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, the organization that hosted NCYC.
Deacon Villalobos also said the teens hosted several fundraisers and raised more than $10,000 on their own in order to attend the national gathering.
As Archbishop Kurtz made his way to meet with youth from the archdiocese, he was repeatedly stopped by attendees who wanted to express their congratulations on his recent election as president to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Once at the “Meet and Greet Your Bishop” booth in the conference’s exhibition hall, Archbishop Kurtz met with hundreds of youth, many from the archdiocese and others from around the country. He signed his “Bishop Trading Card” and took photographs for more than an hour.
Goodwin said it’s her hope that the teens “grow more in love with the church.”
“The message of the Gospel hasn’t changed. We just have to augment the delivery system a bit for the young,” Goodwin said.