For a Catholic teenager, following his or her faith often equates to swimming against the tide. So, it was with great joy that Alyssa Heydens and Elijah Truth rode the wave of affirmation that recently crashed through Columbus, Ohio.
“Being in the arena with 20,000 other youth who share the same faith as me, and to not be embarrassed to show it, is the most incredible feeling,” said Alyssa, 17, a parishioner of St. Pius Tenth in Chili.
“As much as it may seem that my friends and I are alone in our Catholic beliefs, we’re not, and here (was) the evidence right in front of me,” added Elijah, 16, from St. Mary Parish in Bath.
Alyssa and Elijah, both members of the Diocesan Youth Committee, were among a huge contingent from the Diocese of Rochester who took part in the National Catholic Youth Conference held Nov. 8-10. Rochester sent 739 participants — 552 high-school students and 187 adult chaperons — in assembling the largest total of any diocese outside Columbus. This group included several priests as well as Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who celebrated the conference’s closing Mass Nov. 10 though he had not originally been scheduled to do so.
The NCYC theme was “Discover the Way/Descubre el Camino” and included general sessions and keynote presentations as well as some 450 exhibitors and 250 speakers and performers. Events took place at the Nationwide Arena and Greater Columbus Convention Center and also featured opportunities for daily liturgy and prayer services, discussions and workshops.
Among the notable guests were Steve Angrisano, who served as the conference’s master of ceremonies, and Tony Melendez, a keynote speaker. Angrisano is one of the country’s most popular Catholic musicians, and Melendez, who was born without arms, wowed the crowd by playing the guitar with his feet. Both men have made multiple appearances in the Diocese of Rochester.
Another physically disabled keynoter was Renee Bondi, who is paralyzed from her chest down as the result of an accident. She sang during her presentation while telling the audience that doctors had predicted she’d never sing again. Rounding out the keynote speakers was Father Tony Ricard, who offered up plenty of humor but also was “incredibly deep,” according to Elijah. The New Orleans priest led a blessing for NCYC participants to thank them for past prayers for and support of Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“I did not sit through one keynote without needing tissues,” Alyssa said. “They all hit home with me, and their stories have inspired me to truly open my eyes and heart.”
Teens weren’t the only ones impressed with their Columbus experience. Father William Moorby, pastor of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County, described his first trip to the NCYC as “an awesome experience” in a Nov. 18 bulletin essay. That article also included reflections from several of the 25 NCYC youths and eight chaperons from his parishes, who described their experience as “life-changing,” “nonjudgmental,” “a time to break away from materialistic values” and “a huge party but through Christ.”
Numerous NCYC reactions also were captured in a group journal kept by the 15 youths and eight adults from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Brighton. They recalled such light moments as sampling the “stupid hot” version of salsa in a local restaurant, playing laser tag and wearing the moose-head hats that were a staple of Rochester diocesan participants. Some journal entries were more somber, such as that of a girl who noted how the NCYC had helped her cope with the recent death of her father; and the participant who memorialized Veronica Gantt, 16, of the Diocese of Las Vegas, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the NCYC’s first day. Other Our Lady of Lourdes youths mentioned the lack of sleep, the abundance of laughter and tears, the joy of making new friends from all parts of the country, and the appreciation they gained for the keynoters who have remained strong in their faith through intense difficulties.
NCYC closed on a perfect note for the Rochester Diocese as Bishop Clark, who has a long history of involvement in national youth initiatives, served as celebrant for the final Mass. He stepped in for Columbus Bishop Frederick F. Campbell, a native of this diocese who grew up in Elmira. Bishop Campbell was recovering from foot surgery.
“I felt that he fit right in because he can truly relate to the youth,” Alyssa said of Bishop Clark, noting that he joined right in with the teens in clapping to music at the end of Mass.
The national conference is held every two years. Elijah, whose trip to Columbus marked his first-ever NCYC, is already urging diocesan teens who will be eligible for the November 2009 gathering in Kansas City, Mo., to mark their calendars accordingly.
“Any kid out there wondering, ‘should I go to this NCYC in a few years,’ I want to tell them, get out there. It’s an awesome experience, and they won’t regret it, I swear!” Elijah emphasized.Tags: NCYC