On Nov. 19, more than 23,000 teens and chaperones from across the United States converged on Indianapolis to celebrate their Catholic faith by participating in the 2015 National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). Among the crowd were 44 “NCYC Angels” wearing halos with flashing LED lights and Los Angeles Prayer Department shirts to represent the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The general sessions for the NCYC took place in Lucas Oil Stadium. Participating in the NCYC helped many of the teens from Los Angeles feel connected to a vibrant faith community that is much larger than their own parishes.
“It’s so easy to feel like we’re alone in our faith,” said Harrison Smith from Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Northridge, “but NCYC reminded me that I’m surrounded by millions of people who love God as much as I do.”
David Zamora from Sacred Heart, Lancaster said that his favorite memory from NCYC was realizing that his faith is shared by people extending far beyond the Antelope Valley.
“My faith extends [across] the United States. I’m glad to know that when it comes to my faith, I am never going to be alone,” he said. Echoing the conference theme, David continued, “I am proud to say ‘Here I am Lord.’”
For Felicia Cruz, a teen from Sacred Heart, Lancaster, the most powerful moment of the NCYC came during the Friday evening general session when she participated in Eucharistic adoration with 23,000 other teens.
“I finally understood what it meant to say that God will transform our lives if we just let him enter our hearts. At that moment, I felt renewed in faith, and that is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life.”
Diana Blancarte, also from Sacred Heart, noted that during adoration she felt God for the first time. “It was so breathtaking! I know [now] that he’s always by my side, no matter what.”
Throughout the NCYC, participants had opportunities to attend workshops, celebrate Mass, participate in various communal and individual prayer experiences, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and attend concerts and other recreational events. They also spent time exploring the thematic park, which blends traditional exhibit booths with interactive opportunities, such as musical performances, arts, sports, games and a variety of service projects.
The NCYC Angels spent time packaging 2,000 dried meals as part of Catholic Relief Services’ Helping Hands Project. A total of 50,000 meals were packed during the NCYC for shipment to Burkina Faso in West Africa, where they will be distributed to those in need.
Over the past year, the groups participating in the NCYC dedicated countless hours in various fundraising endeavors to make their pilgrimage possible. Through their hard work, the teens came together as a closely-knit community long before they ever boarded the plane to Indianapolis.
The NCYC was a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” that left Ellen Malham, from Our Lady of Lourdes, Northridge, feeling “affirmed [in], and incredibly proud of, her Catholic faith.”
Although Kim Walker, also from Our Lady of Lourdes, didn’t know what to expect going into the NCYC, it is now something that she wants others to experience. “Not only did I learn more about who I am and [about] my faith, but I also learned about other Catholics [from] around the nation. It was such a wonderful experience sharing this with old and new friends. I hope others who get to go [to the NCYC] in the future have as wonderful an experience as I had.”
The National Catholic Youth Conference is a biennial, three-day conference for Catholic teens from across the U.S. The NCYC is sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, and has been hosted by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis since 2011. The next NCYC will return to Indianapolis Nov. 16-18, 2017.
Katie Zeigler serves as coordinator for Youth Ministry in the Office of Religious Education for the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles.