Kristen Leschhorn is hardly a newcomer to the National Catholic Youth Conference. This past November marked at least the fifth time she’s participated in the biennial conference, yet this time — like every other time — there was a moment during the conference that moved her so much she still gets emotional when she talks about it.
This moment came during eucharistic adoration, which, like the rest of the conference, took place in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The stadium was filled with teens who were most likely running low on sleep and high on energy and excitement, yet the reverence that filled the stadium during the period of adoration was awe-inspiring, she said.
“You’re in a stadium filled with 20,000 Catholic teenagers and adults, and you can hear a pin drop on stage. I’m getting chills right now just talking about it,” she recalled.
Leschhorn was a teen when she attended her first NCYC, and the 2019 conference marked another first for her: It was the first time she participated as a youth minister bringing her own youth group. Earlier in 2019, Leschhorn became coordinator of faith formation and youth ministry for St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and East Bloomfield, and she brought six teens from the parish to Indianapolis for the Nov. 21-23 conference.
Rounding out the St. Benedict group was Father Clifford Dorkenoo, the parish’s parochial vicar, who was attending the conference for the first time. A native of Ghana, Father Dorkenoo has been in the United States for less than three years and at first wasn’t sure what to expect from the conference. By the end of his trip, however, Father Dorkenoo’s uncertainty had vanished.
“The NCYC leaves one with no doubt about the future of the church in this nation as one of hope,” Father Dorkenoo said.
The conference provides an excellent way to help teens understand the universal nature of the Catholic Church, Leschhorn added.
“It definitely helps them to see the bigger church, that our faith is not just our home parish and not even just our diocese,” she said.
Her first trip to NCYC was eye-opening, agreed 17-year-old Clare DeMarco, who in November attended her second conference with the group from St. Benedict. Clare said she was raised in a “very traditionally Catholic atmosphere,” so the atmosphere at the conference, which shares some of the same feel as a Christian-rock concert or a charismatic Mass, was far from familiar.
“It was very different for me, but it was also freeing to get to engage in the universal church. I loved seeing so many (Catholic young people). It’s very powerful to feel so united with your peers. Sometimes you can feel so disconnected from your peers when it comes to your faith,” Clare said.
Quite a few of Clare’s peers from the Diocese of Rochester attended the conference. Six busloads of teens and chaperones departed from the Rochester diocese on Nov. 20, Leschhorn said. Half of those buses arrived in Indianapolis around dinnertime, while the others arrived in the wee hours of the next morning. Regardless of what time they arrived and how much sleep they got, all the pilgrims from the Diocese of Rochester gathered Nov. 21 for a morning Mass celebrated by Father Dorkenoo at their hotel.
“It was a privileged moment to have presided at the opening Mass for the over 400 delegates,” he remarked.
Later that day, the teens, chaperones and priests from the Rochester Diocese headed to Lucas Oil Stadium for the opening general session of the conference and to explore the exhibit hall. The next two days were jam-packed with general sessions and workshops, Leschhorn said. One of the presenters was Immacul√©e Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and her talk was one of Clare’s favorite parts of the trip.
“She talks about radical forgiveness. It’s just so unexpected the things you’ll hear from her, but it’s so beautiful,” Clare said.
The closing Mass ended around 10 p.m. on Nov. 23, and the buses full of local pilgrims headed back to the Rochester area right away, arriving back in town early on the morning of Nov. 24.
Although it only lasts a few days, the conference is structured in such a way that it’s able to reach the hearts of participants from incredibly diverse geographic locales and walks of life, Clare noted.
“It’s not meant to go towards a certain group of people struggling with a certain issue. It really reaches everyone,” she said. “There’s no room to feel left out.”
Priests are among those moved by their experiences at the conference, Father Dorkenoo said, calling the event “an incredible spiritual pilgrimage.”
“Meeting over 20,000 amazing people, most of them young, moved to worship God in such an inspiring way was wonderful,” he said.Tags: Faith Formation, NCYC, NY Catholics