Over 300 from diocese converge at Catholic Youth Conference


CLICK HERE to see a gallery of photos from this event. 

Marley Corpe and a group of friends new and old were out getting lunch during this year’s National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis.

They came upon a bride-to-be and her attendants lining up for a photo.

 “I went over and said, ‘I don’t know you, but would you like me to pray for you?’” Marley recalled with delight.

The bride said yes.

“So our whole little group that had gone to get lunch prayed with her,” said Marley.

The bride cried with joy and the teens wound up in some of her wedding-day photos.

This is not the kind of thing Marley would have done before.

“It just caught me by surprise that it was easy to do in that moment,” she recalled. “I started thinking, ‘Maybe this is what I was supposed to be doing all the time.’”

That was just one of the opportunities the 12,000 young people who attended this year’s NCYC were given to see the big picture and have all the pieces fall into place.

The three-day event for high school age Catholics combined fun and fellowship with intense worship experiences and learning opportunities.

The theme was “Aflame,” pointing to Jesus’s announcement that “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Luke 12:49)

“It’s all about the Holy Spirit igniting our passion for God and stirring the Pentecost flame that sets the world on fire,” Thomas Peuster, a member of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico, stated while taking a break from NCYC activities.

Thomas, a Mexico High School junior, and his brother Andrew, a freshman at MHS, traveled to Indianapolis with their parish youth group.

“We need to refuel ourselves with God and a passion for Him,” said Thomas. “With the spark from NCYC, we’ll be able to spread the flame throughout our society and world.”

Andrew talked about the impressive array of break-out sessions that took place Saturday afternoon throughout the convention center.

“And there’s an indoor village with a bunch of different booths staffed by Catholic colleges and different Catholic organizations,” he said.

NCYC included concerts, keynote speakers, workshops, interactive exhibits, and opportunities to adore Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament and receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

“Closer to God”

About 300 people from the Jefferson City diocese traveled to Indianapolis in six buses from points throughout the Jefferson City diocese and stayed in the same hotel.

Several students from Sacred Heart High School in Sedalia made the journey to Indianapolis.

Junior Eli Smeltzer found the music, the emcees and the entire experience appealing.

“Lucas Oil Stadium was ablaze with 11,000 teen-agers singing and participating like at a regular concert,” he said.

This was senior Claire Smeltzer’s second NCYC. She said the best parts were the closing Mass on Saturday night, with more than 10,000 teens worshipping and praising God together.

“A football stadium meant for football games and rowdy fans housed over 140 priests, deacons, bishops and archbishops,” she marveled.”

Sophomore Miariah VanLeer went looking for “a huge sign” from the Holy Spirit but received something more subtle. While searching one of the tables for a keychain containing a specific saint’s image to give to someone she’s sponsoring for Confirmation, she quietly and half-jokingly asked Jesus to help her find it.

“I looked up, and there it was!” she said.

She said NCYC has helped her appreciate her faith more deeply, grow in it and realize that she still has a long way to go.

“However, it was also very comforting to know that as youth, we aren’t expected to have everything figured out. We just have to wholeheartedly trust in the Lord,” she said.

Sophomore Megan Aonzo, a first-time NCYC participant, enjoyed the smaller break-out sessions the most.

“They were more intimate and seemed more spiritual in a smaller session,” she said.

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the stadium was sophomore Luke Jenkins’s most memorable experience there.

“I was overwhelmed by a sense of silence and peace,” he said. “It also showed me that the Holy Spirit is always ablaze in my heart if I’m just willing to listen!”

Sophomore Jackson Manning benefitted from the candid testimonies given by fellow Catholic teens during the general sessions — especially those who had experienced questions and doubts about their faith.

“I hope God will call on me and help me grow in my faith and allow me to have a better understanding and a relationship with Him,” he said.

Sophomore Tommy Mertens loved the mixture of fun and faith. He said the speakers answered questions about faith and the Church’s teachings that had been puzzling him for years.

“I have never felt closer to God and to my faith,” he said. “I am proud to be Catholic and am excited to go to NCYC in 2023.”

“Here for a reason”

Marley Corpe and Mackenzie Collins both go to School of the Osage and are members of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark.

They had never met each other before NCYC.

“Now we’re becoming really good friends through our relationship with God,” said Marley.

She hopes parishes throughout the diocese will help young people stay connected by incorporating some of the kind of upbeat music they heard at NCYC into Mass and other times for prayer and worship.

“I lot of us do relate better to that kind of music,” she said.

She asked for prayers for her and the rest of the teens to grow into having as strong and passionate a relationship with God every day as they experienced at their most thrilling moments at NCYC.

“It can be easy to lose sight of what’s important when you have so much else going on,” she said. “We need to remember that we’re here for one reason, and that’s God’s purpose.”

Trey Struemph, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in St. Elizabeth said the best thing about NCYC was knowing that everyone there felt welcome and accepted.

“Some might think a simple social event doesn’t have the ability to help those who are suffering physically or mentally,” he said. “But they would be wrong.”

He’s convinced that events such as NCYC have the power to lift people up and heal their wounds, especially if they’re struggling with depression.

“NCYC may be the beginning of their road to maintaining a positive mental attitude,” he said.

“Wonderful work of God”

A week after he returned home, messages from NCYC are still turning over in Brody Spriggs’s mind.

“During one of the sessions, they said it’s easy to veer off the right path, and it’s not as easy to get back onto it,” Brody, a member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark, recalled.

He related to one of the presenters’ image of being part of something like a stained-glass window — with seemingly broken pieces being fitted together by a master artisan according to a great plan to create something beautiful.

“We’re all different, but we’re all a wonderful work of God,” he said.

He believes his outlook, and by extension his entire life, has changed because of NCYC.

“I’m feeling more connected with God,” he said.

He believes parishes can help keep the momentum going by creating youth groups and providing young people opportunities to get together and talk about God, and not just at Mass.

“Actually being able to interact with people and talk about God helps a lot,” he said.

He asks for prayers for him and his fellow teens to stay close to God — “not just knowing that He’s there but talking to Him and having Him involved in my life every day.”

His mother, Paulette Spriggs, was excited to go with him and the rest of the group from Our Lady of the Lake.

“As a parent, watching your own child and the other young people grow closer to God is really neat,” she said.

She enjoyed hearing Brody talk about the break-out sessions and what he took away from each of them.

She found the closing Mass to be breathtaking.

She also enjoyed growing in friendship with fellow parents in her parish. She believes it’s important for adults to set a good example of practicing their faith joyfully throughout the week.

“Our faith brought us together,” she said. “And having people I know I can talk to if I have questions is really great.”

“Hope for the future”

Bishop W. Shawn Mc­Knight, who traveled to Indianapolis to spend time with the young people, found it enjoyable but somewhat exhausting.

“The energy and enthusiasm our youth have is inspired and gives me much hope for the future of the Church,” he said.

“My hope is that when the youth return to the diocese, they may find welcoming parish communities that are open to their new ideas for evangelizing others, especially the young,” he said.

“And I hope our youth never forget their dignity as sons and daughters of the Church,” he added.

Randy Holtmeyer, an adult chaperone from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in St. Anthony, said chasing a bunch of high schoolers around downtown Indianapolis so they can grow in their faith is hard.

“Watching them grow up in an ever-growing faithless world is also hard,” he stated.

He came away from NCYC with a better understanding that all people, young and old alike, are called by the Holy Spirit, just like the Apostles who were gathered in the Upper Room on Pentecost Sunday.

“We’re all called to spread the message of Jesus, to spread His love, His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, His compassion, His kindness,” he said. “And it starts today! It starts with you and me! It starts within our homes, our churches, our schools.”

Mr. Holterman is convinced that some of the people he met will still be in contact years from now. Others will never see each other again in this life.

“I’ll pray that each of you have the courage to continue to grow in your faith while spreading the message you received this weekend,” he told his young followers on social media.

What’s next?

Maureen Quinn, diocesan director of youth ministry and religious education, and Father Paul Clark, diocesan vocation director, also attended NCYC.

Mrs. Quinn said gathering as people of faith from one diocese after the past year-and-a-half of pandemic isolation felt like a gift that brought tremendous energy and joy.

She said she was amazed not only with the fervor of the closing Mass but with the small-group interaction she witnessed back at the hotel afterward.

“The intentional faith sharing was inspirational,” she said. “Sometimes we underestimate the power of the parish community, just like we sometimes forget the power of the domestic church at home.”

Fr. Clark and Mrs. Quinn insisted that what the young people experienced at NCYC is too important to get left behind in Indianapolis.

In a video titled “What’s Next?” that was played on each of the buses from this diocese on the way back home, they both emphasized the importance of getting involved in their parishes and continuing to cultivate their relationship with God.

“Hopefully, you just experienced a mountaintop experience, a glimpse of the realities that your senses usually cannot detect,” said Fr. Clark. “It’s moments like these that provide an opportunity to remember when God revealed Himself to you, and now you get to build your life on this moment.”

Mrs. Quinn urged the young people to attend Mass regularly, read the Bible and pray daily, get involved in a Catholic youth group, volunteer in their communities and surround themselves with other people who are striving for virtue.

 “We are not consumers of faith, expecting only to receive something,” Fr. Clark insisted. “We are to be transformed by our faith!”

Fr. Clark and Mrs. Quinn encouraged the adults on the trip to work with their parishes to make them more welcoming to young people, and to accept help from the diocese for doing so and make the most of the available resources.

“More God”

Thomas Peuster from Mexico requested prayers for all of the young people to have a religious transformation and a moment where they can commit to making God the focus of their lives.

“Maybe a lot of young people are questioning their beliefs,” he stated. “Pray for us so that we may accept Him and accept everything that we need to believe as Catholics.”

“More Jesus, that’s what we need,” said his brother, Andrew. “More God in our lives. That’s what we really need. Keep it simple and stay focused on that.”