EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a first-person account of the National Catholic Youth Conference from Colleen O’Toole, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s in Penfield and a member of the Diocesan Youth Committee. Colleen was among a contingent of approximately 700 people from the Diocese of Rochester who attended the NCYC, held Oct. 27-30 in Atlanta, Ga.
It’s 4 a.m. and I’m sitting on my suitcase musing the meaning of being a Catholic. NCYC is over, and I’m already contemplating missing the plane and staying in Atlanta. This is one of the dangers the speakers warned us about. I heard several times that yes, it’s easy to be Catholic when there’s 18,000 of them around you. It’s easy to be open about your faith, but the real challenge is keeping that spirit alive once you leave the security of NCYC and return to normal life, work and play.
That spirit refers to the joy I found in dancing and singing along to the many music acts. I’ve never been a person to just let my inhibitions go. I rarely sing in church. But I found myself singing and dancing to everything that was played. Music really is universal, and I heard and felt everything expressed by Steve Angrisano, Jesse Manibusan, Ceili Rain and Cheer Up Charlie.
The spirit of Catholicism was also present in the workshops I attended, which were very relevant to my life as a Catholic teen. Apex, a juggling ministry, presented a set on recognizing our gifts and using them to praise God, as they do. Who would have equated juggling with proclaiming God’s word? Mike Patin cautioned the group on processing the media’s messages. There was even a workshop for girls on dating that gave the great advice of not losing your true self. The workshops helped to connect my faith with my life, and began to bring Christ out of Sundays and into the whole week.
I can’t even talk about NCYC without mentioning the wonderful people. I’m not an outgoing person, yet I felt totally comfortable with these thousands of people. I could walk up to anyone and know I wouldn’t be judged. I played wall ball with kids from Orlando, listened to music with kids from Georgia, ate pretzels with kids form Missouri and traded innumerable amounts of bead crosses for shirts, pins, bandannas, candy and countless other mementos. Even though there were so many people, I still felt as if I were on a retreat. No one made NCYC feel big and untouchable. To the contrary, it was incredibly inclusive.
I think I speak for many when I say the closing Mass was the most moving. It felt shorter than Sunday Masses at my church, even though it was twice as long. As the Eucharist was being given, I looked around the stadium and was struck by the sheer intensity of the situation. By the time I reached the priests, I was in tears. As I sat and prayed for strength to be who God wanted me to, the tears kept coming as my friend sang. I couldn’t have made a sound if I wanted to, but I simply sat and cried and prayed. I easily felt closer to God than I ever had before.
This brought me to my suitcase at 4 a.m., when I realized that’s what the speakers had been talking about. I had to learn how to translate this incredible feeling into my daily life. NCYC gave me the chance to feel that, and I am so grateful that I was able to go. It was unforgettable and will forever shape how I live.