“Feelings of amazement” is how Ashley Smart, 17, describes worshiping
with several thousand other teenagers.
“It was almost as if we could feel the presence of God inside each
one of us. Nobody was worried about feeling out of place or
self-conscious,” said Ashley, a parishioner in the Northern Cayuga
Cluster, in recalling the final Mass at the 2001 National Catholic
Youth Conference in Indianapolis that drew an estimated 25,000
This week Ashley is bound to get those same feelings, when the NCYC
— which is held every two years — descends upon Houston Nov. 13-16.
Once again, the Diocese of Rochester is playing a major role in
creating big numbers.
According to Michael Theisen, diocesan director of youth ministry,
approximately 850 people — 600 high-schoolers along with adult
chaperons and young-adult assistants — are representing Rochester.
This includes more than 50 parish groups from all sections of the
diocese. As was the case in 2001, Rochester has the highest diocesan or
archdiocesan coalition in the country other than the host city.
Theisen said local NCYC interest stems from viewing the conference
not simply as a four-day event, but as a key component in an ongoing
faith journey. He also credited parishes for lending strong support,
especially with fundraising efforts.
Stephen Lesniak, from Church of the Epiphany in Sodus, said his
youth group has been working hard to raise NCYC money. “We had
breakfasts, we sold cider, we sold flowers. We had a jar for pennies
and then we rolled them,” said Stephen, 18. Corey Ginett, youth
minister, said the youth group has raised $10,000, enabling 16 youths
and four adults to go to Houston — impressive numbers, she noted, for
a fairly small parish.
The largest parish NCYC contingent is from Irondequoit’s Christ the
King, which is bringing 42 youths and 15 adults. Keegan Brown, a
second-time NCYC attendee, said these numbers reflect a strong overall
parish youth-ministry program.
“Kids are always talking about how much they enjoy it on Sundays,
and that draws kids to come to our weekly meetings. They then turn into
regulars participating in larger events,” observed Keegan, 17.
Also helping to promote NCYC participation is Bishop Matthew H.
Clark, who gave the homily at the closing Mass in Indianapolis and
serves as the U.S. bishops’ episcopal liaison to the National
Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. Bishop Clark is accompanying
the diocesan group to Houston and is set to take part in the NCYC’s
Youth Congress that will center on social justice.
The 2003 conference theme is “River of Life.” Other NCYC highlights
will include keynote speakers, workshops, music, worship and
recreational events. All in all, teens have numerous chances to make
new friends from other parts of the diocese, as well as the country.
“I remember (in 2001) a kid from Florida came up to me and taught me
how to swing dance,” Keegan said. “I like all of the acceptance,
openness and everyone talking with everyone.”
Stephen said he, also, has fond memories of Indianapolis. “Just the
atmosphere — it was very pleasant. Nobody seemed overstressed, there
was no anxiety,” he said.
“Being from such a small church I had never experienced anything
like it,” added Ashley, whose cluster includes St. John’s in Port
Byron, St. Joseph’s in Weedsport and St. Patrick’s in Cato. “Even
though I didn’t know most of these people, there was an incredible
feeling of unity because we all knew we were there for the same reason
— to share in celebrating our faith in God. The trip wasn’t what your
normal teenager would classify as ‘some boring church thing.'”
Ashley, who is among nine youths and three adults traveling from her
cluster, also remarked that words alone can’t give a full scope of the
“You have to be there to truly understand it,” she said.