Regina Crotser’s recent trip to Atlanta produced a faith experience like nothing she had ever before witnessed.
“At Mass in the Georgia Dome, there’s 20,000 people thinking the exact same thing as you. You could really tell God was there. There was really awesome music, and everybody was singing,” recalled Regina, 15, describing this highlight from the National Catholic Youth Conference held Oct. 27-30.
“There was a lot of yelling and cheering. You really have to take a step back and say ‘Wow, we’re Catholic — Catholic usually doesn’t mean screaming and yelling!'” she added with a laugh.
Regina was among a group of 20 teens and adult chaperons who went to the national conference from Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties. Other sizable NCYC parish groups from the Southern Tier were Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick in Tioga County with 28 people; and St. Mary’s in Bath with 21. This healthy Tier presence was part of an impressive contingent of 700 participants from the Diocese of Rochester, including Bishop Matthew H. Clark.
Approximately 18,000 people overall took part in the NCYC. With the theme “Winds of Change,” the event blended keynote presentations, concerts, prayer opportunities and discussions through which teens addressed such topics as forgiveness, spirituality, global issues, sexuality and leadership.
Jillian Grenier, 18, from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick, gave kudos to the keynote speakers.
“They were awesome. You could just see anybody sitting on the edge of their seats,” she said.
Regina said she was impressed by the faith-themed exhibits, such as a booth on vocations and another explaining the Catholic view on abortion. She added that “there was really fun stuff — the biggest Twister game ever,” and said she enjoyed swapping memento T-shirts, hats and pins with new-found friends from such states as South Carolina, Indiana and Iowa.
Regina said the large interest in NCYC at her parish stemmed from the parish’s strong youth-ministry program.
“I just think that youth group is really exciting, and it’s kind of like the NCYC is 20 times youth group,” she said.
“I think it’s because we’re all eager to experience God,” said Colleen Sheehan, 17, of her big NCYC gang from St. Mary’s in Bath. “And, of course, the going out of state is nice, too.”
Colleen certainly knows about going out of state, having also attended World Youth Day in Germany this past summer with a group from the New York City area. She said World Youth Day’s numbers were more vast than the NCYC, with more than 1 million people from numerous countries gathered for the colossal event that included a closing Mass by Pope Benedict XVI.
“It was a great experience,” she said.
In order to add to her globe-trotting experiences, Colleen helped her St. Mary’s youth group raise money so they could attend NCYC. “We did so many fundraisers for this,” she remarked, citing such projects as a rummage sale, baked-goods sales at highway rest stops and housework: “One of the largest jobs we took was taking rocks from an old pool bed. That was hours of hauling rocks.”
Holy Family’s fundraising activities included the sale of chickens, cookie dough and pizzas.
“It wasn’t that bad, because I’m not that bad at selling stuff,” Regina said.
Fundraisers were also held in earnest at Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick.
“Oh yeah, anything — cans and bottles; we baked some cookies; we sold a whole bunch of candy bars,” Jillian said. “We did anything imaginable to raise money.”
For Regina, all the efforts to attend NCYC are already paying off in her faith life.
“Before, I wouldn’t think about God as much unless I was in church. Now I think, ‘would God want me to do this? What would Jesus do?’ I’ve really reflected on what church means, and I think my life will change because of it,” she said, adding that she plans to attend the national conference — held every two years — when it comes to Columbus, Ohio, in the fall of 2007.
Whereas the NCYC was a first-time experience for Regina, Jillian and Colleen attended both the Atlanta conference and the 2003 NCYC in Houston. Jillian said being at the national gathering can impact one’s faith life simply through the sheer volume of fellow believers.
“You see that you’re not alone in being a teenage Catholic. It makes you aware that it’s cool to be Catholic at school, or wherever you are,” she explained.
Colleen, also, said the NCYC has helped strengthen her faith significantly.
“I had been one of those Christians who were afraid to voice who they were and what they believed in,” she acknowledged. “After Houston, however, I saw how many other Catholics there were in the country and I thought denying it was silly. For me, that was the first and most important step of my Christian life: admitting it. The high I got from that (2003) convention has yet to fade, because I’m still proud of who I am and what my religion is.”