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Archbishop George J. Lucas is introduced by Kiley Allgood, a member of the youth group at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in North Bend and a senior at North Bend Central High School, at the National Catholic Youth Conference’s opening session Nov. 16 in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of Kelli Emanuel.

Youths meet Christ in each other at NCYC

Before last month’s National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), Ryan Fabian and sisters Marin and Isabella Jetensky had only a limited sense of being part of the body of Christ.

But Jesus met them there, they said. First, when they joined some 25,000 Catholics in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, then a day later as they adored him in the exposed Blessed Sacrament at the same location.

"I didn’t expect there to be that many people" when the Archdiocese of Omaha’s delegation of nearly 300 teens and adults arrived in Indiana’s capital, said Fabian, 14, a member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Omaha. "When I got there, it was just crazy."

The Nov. 16-18 event gave him and the Jetensky sisters the experience of attending Mass with thousands of people, and adoring Christ in the Blessed Sacrament with the entire gathering from around the country the night of Nov. 17.

As music played and the stadium fell silent, "God really moved me. He showed me all the things in my life," said Marin Jetensky, 17. "I immediately was in tears."

"Before I went to NCYC, I had a lot of challenges facing me," said Isabella, 15, a member with her sister of St. Patrick Parish in Tekamah. "At adoration, I presented them to God, and I think I finally found the trust in him to make me stronger."

Such stories inspire Beth Carlson, assistant coordinator of the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, and Deacon Jeffrey Zurek, youth ministry co-coordinator at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Blair, to continue urging young Catholics to make NCYC part of their teenage experience.

Youth ministers regularly tell their students, "Hey, you know what? You’re not just the future of the church. You are the church," Zurek said. When they attend events like NCYC or the international World Youth Day, they "understand how big and important Jesus is in our lives."

Carlson said talks and other events around the conference’s theme, "Called … From Sea to Shining Sea," addressed how a relationship with Jesus impacts teens. "It’s a difficult time in their lives," she said. "It’s good for them to see others struggling with the same things."

Archbishop George J. Lucas celebrated an opening Mass for archdiocesan participants at Indianapolis’ Downtown Embassy Suites Hotel, continuing the practice he began at the 2009 NCYC in Kansas City, shortly after succeeding now-Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss.

"Invite Jesus to come close to you, be part of the activities you are part of, be part of the conversations and relationships," Archbishop Lucas said in his homily. "He doesn’t usually shout at us …. He allows us to pray, to discern, to see where he might be leading us. But he leads us surely."

Founded in 1983 and run by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, NCYC has held a biennial national conference since 1991. This year’s event was the fourth in a row and sixth overall in Indianapolis, which will host again in 2019.

In addition to their worship experiences, Fabian and the Jetensky sisters said they were impressed by keynote addresses from international speakers Chris Stefanick, founder of Denver’s Real Life Catholic ministry, and Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Sister Miriam James Heidland, a former NCAA Division I volleyball player.

Sister Miriam spoke of falling into substance abuse as a teenager before turning her life around, Marin Jetensky said. In her story, "I felt the determination that you can become anyone you want to."

Fabian said he appreciated Stefanick’s message that "if God lives in you, you’re a lot bigger than you think you are." Before NCYC, "I didn’t think that many people saw who I was or noticed me. But going there and hearing what he said opened my eyes up."

 

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