Caitlin Mensah, 16, a junior at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, had never heard of the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) before, until her school’s Director of Catholic Identity, Father James King, encouraged her to attend the three-day event.
Learning from him of the thousands of youth that would be converging in Indianapolis, Indiana, to share their Catholic faith through prayer, catechesis, worship and music, Caitlin knew it would be a “good opportunity” to be among those similar to her in age and belief. And she decided to, as she said, “take a leap of faith.”
With 83 other young pilgrims and their chaperones, Caitlin boarded a bus from Christ the Redeemer Parish in Atco on the evening of Nov. 18, for the 16-hour trip to Indiana.
“Everyone” from the diocese, and the 23,000 other youth she broke bread with during the three days, were “really welcoming. I fell right in,” she said.
Held from Nov. 19-21, the event was hosted by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and held at the Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. The conference is sponsored by the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry.
NCYC, which takes place every two years, helps the young church “go deeper in their relationship with the Lord,” said Greg Coogan, director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Camden, who led the diocesan contingent.
Youth from around the world reflected their youthful spirit and diversity in declaring, as the theme went, “Aqui Estoy, Senor,” or “Here I Am, Lord.”
A concert by Catholic musician Matt Maher had youth stomping their feet and raising their hands to sky, while presenters inspired in crowds large and small, whether it was Leah Darrow speaking on love and chastity during a workshop, or Father Leo Patalinghug using his background as a chef, martial arts teacher, and priest to teach the foundations of the Catholic faith.
One of the youth who had the opportunity to personally interact with some of the conference’s speakers, and even introduce them, was 16-year-old-Sean McGirl, a junior at Gloucester Catholic High School.
Since the conference, he’s felt “closer to my faith.”
“I’m praying more, and engaging in service opportunities at school,” much like the activity that saw the youth prepare 50,000 meals for the hungry in Burkina Faso.
Sean and other youth are taking to heart the words of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who celebrated the conference’s closing Mass at Lucas Oil Stadium on the feast of Christ the King.
“This is not the end,” he told the young church. “This is the beginning of another stage when you will go back to your places in order to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”
Christopher LaPortez, 17, and his brother, Junior, 16, members of the youth group at Saint Katharine Drexel Parish in Egg Harbor City, both went to Indianapolis.
“I am ready to serve Jesus,” Christopher said.