Joey Jones was wearing a silly hat he’d been given at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis.
A man working at the venue said he liked the hat, so Joey let him have it.
“I had something that he didn’t have, and when I gave it to him, he thought it was amazing,” said Joey, one of 250 high school age teens from this diocese who attended the massive Catholic youth event Nov. 16-18.
“I went to Indy feeling like I was lacking something important in my life, and God gave me what I needed while I was there,” he said.
“And now, he wants me to pass it along to the people I meet — just like that hat.”
Busloads of young people, adult chaperones and priests returned to parishes all over this diocese Nov. 19, filled with enthusiasm, joy and determination not to forget all that they experienced at NCYC.
The event, held every other year, consists of three days of inspiration, prayer, fellowship and fun.
The theme this year was “Fully Alive!”
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fully alive,” said Olivia Monnig. “Now knowing what that really means, I’ve tried to do everything these past few days to be fully alive. It feels so good and I feel so happy.”
“One of the speakers told us, ‘If I’m alive, I can give others life,’” Catie Meystrik recounted.
“Everything feels more ‘right’ now,” said Anthony Baker. “I’m waking up and I’ve got a smile on my face. I feel like God is playing this role in my life, to help me come back stronger than I was before I went to NCYC.”
“God is in all”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight spent a day and a half at the event, attending the Friday morning session in Lucas Oil Stadium, being introduced with the other bishops, and sitting with this diocese’s contingent of about 250 young people and adults.
He offered Mass for the group on Friday evening, the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
Preaching on the day’s readings, he urged the young people to behold with awe God’s sovereignty made evident in every aspect of creation.
“And if you can see God in nature, just think for a moment of what might be revealed to you in the human heart!” the bishop stated.
Seizing upon the “Fully Alive!” theme, he noted that each person has unique gifts and abilities given by God for the purpose of helping to accomplish his will.
“We are called to be revealers of the mystery of God,” said Bishop McKnight. “When people see the beauty of our Catholic faith fully alive in us, when they see us making sacrifices for someone else, that’s what catches their attention.”
God, therefore, calls everyone to be faithful witnesses of his Gospel, his mystery, his life, his light and his peace.
“When we celebrate the Eucharist, we not only celebrate a profound mystery of bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ,” the bishop noted.
“We celebrate the miracle and the mystery of US becoming Eucharist for others!”
“God in the room”
Mariah Van Leer had been to Confession two days before leaving for NCYC. But when a friend invited her to receive the sacrament while they were at Adoration inside the massive stadium, “I felt compelled to go,” she said.
The result: “It felt like the Holy Spirit hit me with a semi. I can’t even put it into words.”
She recognized God speaking to her through the priest as he pronounced the words of absolution.
From then on, everything at the conference seemed like a window to the divine.
“God said, ‘You want a moment with me? You’ve got a moment with me!” she recalled.
During Mass and Adoration with 13,000 other Catholics her age, “you could FEEL God in the room!” she said.
Never the same
Josie and Catie Meystrik, who are sisters, attended NCYC together.
“I’ve never been to a Mass that big,” said Josie. “And everyone was singing and praising God.”
“I feel fully alive,” said Catie. “I know the life I experienced there at NCYC, and seeing the other people being fully alive.”
She said even the group she traveled with proved to be a gift from God.
“It was judgement-free,” she stated. “People affirmed each other and prayed with each other.”
Josie felt the weight of her sins being lifted from her shoulders in Confession.
“God has forgiven me and I feel clean now,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing that I hope everybody gets to experience.”
“I know I’ll never go to Mass the same way as before,” she said. “I’ll never pray the prayers and sing the songs the same as before,” she said.
“I’m going to enter a new chapter in my life.”
“All through God”
“It was pure joy there,” said Joey. “It was awesome.”
Because of the set-up, not only could he receive the Sacrament of Confession, he could see all the other people coming to do the same thing.
“All these people sinned. I’m not alone in Confession,” he said. “I’m seeing all these people receiving forgiveness, too.”
Each was given a sticker that said, “I’m forgiven.”
“It was like your bandage,” said Joey. “If you saw that on someone, you know they experienced the same feeling.”
Olivia spoke of bonding with the people she traveled to NCYC with.
“It was all through God,” she said, “realizing how much God really loves us and how much he’s given to us and how grateful we should be.”
She said there were so many ways to be moved throughout the event.
“Jesus is anything but boring!” she proclaimed. “During Adoration, I sat in silence and had the time of my life.”
“It was an extremely powerful experience,” said Anthony.
Mass and Adoration were “massive,” he said.
Granger Sedore might have been one of the newest Catholics at NCYC.
He was initiated into the Church this past Easter in St. Pius X Parish in Moberly.
The death of a beloved uncle and sadness in his family had sent him on a search for renewal.
He found solace in the Catholic practice of praying for the repose of the souls of those who have died.
“And seeing that grace, seeing that hope, that love for everybody, not just for ourselves but also those outside the Catholic faith, it just felt like home,” he said.
He related to the Prodigal Son being welcomed home by the loving father.
He was searching for healing and restoration within his growing relationship with God, and he found that at NCYC.
During Adoration with thousands of other Catholics in the stadium, he followed a group down the stairs in order to kneel closer to the Blessed Sacrament.
When the crowd stopped moving, he knelt down on the metal stairs and stayed there, absorbed in prayer.
A man from Jacksonville, Florida, happened by and asked to pray with him.
“This man came up and put his arms over me and asked God to cure my anxiety, my disappointment, my missing my family back home,” Granger recounted.
“He read me like a book,” he said. “The experience was so profound, I didn’t even realize I was weeping until I put my hands to my face and saw that it was soaking wet.”
From that moment forward, Granger was fully engaged at NCYC.
In Confession, he asked if he could kneel in front of the priest.
With that arrangement, there was no barrier between minister and penitent.
“I could see him nod as I confessed these things and not look at all upset at me but happy that I was letting go of my sins,” said Granger.
The priest then congratulated him for coming to Confession and offered him advice for conquering his sins.
“The grace and love I felt during this experience was so uplifting that I took every opportunity at the conference to point people to Confession,” he said.
On the way home, he set out to reconcile with his brother, and there has been peace in his home for the first time in a long time.
“The whole family came together for the reunification brought forth by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Maureen Quinn, director of religious education and youth/young adult ministry for the diocese, hopes the young people will remember what Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis said during the opening prayer service:
“You are not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to enencounter.”
Small-group meetings among the NCYC attendees focused on how to keep the spiritual momentum going after the teens went home and settled back into their daily lives.
“One of the most important parts of the conference but probably the most difficult was at the end when we had to leave,” said Catie.
“We were being sent forth to bring back to the world and our families and schools and churches all that we felt and witnessed,” she said. “I wanted to go back and relive it all again on replay, but I know I’m made for his moment, and I have a mission that I’m being sent on.”
Echoing the words of keynote speaker and homilist Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Espaillat II of New York, they talked about radiating reverence and joy to the people around them.
“His main point was that to live a Christ-filled life, we have to have faith, have fun and have a community of family and friends to support us,” said Mariah.
And you can’t keep it to yourself.
“If you have an encounter with God at an event like this, it’s so important to keep that fire burning and spread it to other people,” she said.
Olivia said helping each other stay accountable will be an important part of life after NCYC for her and her friends.
Bishop Espaillat talked about how Jesus had a sense of humor and a joyful disposition — “how he was funny and told jokes and stories and enjoyed having fun,” said Josie.
When Bishop Espaillat finished speaking during Adoration, he reverently removed the Blessed Sacrament from the ornate monstrance on the altar and held Christ close to his heart as he processed out.
It was a loving gesture the young people will never forget.
Anthony said he wants to remember Bishop Espaillat’s five-step advice for praying for a person who’s in need of a miracle:
“Ask for permission to pray. Praise God. Thank God for who you’re praying for. Call on the Holy Spirit, and pray for their intentions.”
Anthony also recalled the three steps suggested by Gian Gamboa, campus minister at St. Dominic Savio High School in Austin Texas, for growing in faith every day:
“Find people who bring you closer to God. Embrace the struggle — meaning let God be your strength, and talk to Jesus through prayer.”
The next NCYC will be held in Nov. 20-22, 2025, in Indianapolis.