November 29, 2019

National Catholic Youth Conference 2019

Does NCYC have a lasting impact? Yes—I saw it

After the closing Mass for the National Catholic Youth Conference on Nov. 23 in Indianapolis, young people on the way to their hotel stopped to offer water and snacks to a homeless man. They then prayed over him, led by the young man on the far left. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

After the closing Mass for the National Catholic Youth Conference on Nov. 23 in Indianapolis, young people on the way to their hotel stopped to offer water and snacks to a homeless man. They then prayed over him, led by the young man on the far left. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

I admit it. I have wondered about the lasting impact the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) has on teens.

I do recognize the value of the conference. The experience offers youths and adults alike exposure to thought-provoking workshops and inspiring speakers.

It’s eye-opening and encouraging for those at the age when fitting in is of paramount importance to see 20,000 of their peers unabashedly excited about their faith. And absolutely no one can deny the merit of placing these young people in the real presence of our Lord in eucharistic adoration, Mass and confession.

I acknowledge all of this, truly I do.

But what I’ve questioned is what happens after NCYC. Do the young people put into action—let alone simply remember—the lessons they learned there? Do they step out into the world changed, ready to live their faith more intentionally?

I have no doubt many-a-youth minister and parent reading these words are already mentally forming letters to the editor to disprove my doubts.

There is no need. My doubts were dispelled as I walked back to my car after the closing Mass on Nov. 23.

It was about 10:30 p.m., cold and dark. Streams of teens sang and chatted their way up West Street in downtown Indianapolis toward comfy rooms in the ritzy hotels that surround the Indiana Convention Center.

I noticed two teens off to the side of the sidewalk. One wore a foam corncob hat, the other a chasuble and bishop’s miter that looked like they were purchased at a Walmart after-Halloween costume sale.

The two were bending over near a trash can. I stepped over to make sure they were OK.

That’s when I noticed a man sitting on the cold concrete, huddled against the trash can. The youths were unzipping their backpacks and handing him snacks.

More teens noticed, and they too stopped to shower the man with bags of chips, bottles of water and packages of cookies and crackers.

Then another group stopped and gathered around. I’m not sure if it was a teen or a chaperone, but a young-looking man wearing a yellow foam crown stepped up and asked, “Sir, is it all right if we pray with you?”

The man said yes and bowed his head. Some youths did the same, others held out their hands in blessing, and the young man with the crown prayed aloud for the homeless man’s protection, his safety, his ability to find shelter, and his knowledge of God’s love for him.

The foam-crowned man then knelt down and shook the other man’s hand, gave him a pat on the arm and continued up the sidewalk along West Street. The youths offered the seated man a chorus of “good-nights” and “God-bless-you’s” then followed the man wearing the crown.

After the pray-ers moved on, I noticed that many other groups of goofy-hat-wearing NCYC attendees continued to stream by, singing and chatting, oblivious to the man by the trash can.

OK, so maybe not all who participate in NCYC walk away changed. But some do, and I was utterly humbled by the unhesitating generosity and charity I witnessed by the youths and young adults who ministered to the man by the trash can.

“All are children of God,” they were told at NCYC.

“You’re called to step out of your comfort zone.”

“Go and be the hands and feet of Christ.”

“Tell another Christ overcomes sadness.”

Late on a cold night in Indianapolis, these young people put each of these NCYC lessons into action.

Does NCYC make a lasting impact on those who attend?

On some it does. And that lived impact makes Christ more present in them, and thus more present to others.

Like the homeless man.

And me.

(Natalie Hoefer is a reporter for The Criterion.)

 

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