Youth and adults from diocese inspired by National Catholic Youth Conference


     Managing Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Dozens of high school students from across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, along with their adult chaperones, grew deeper in their faith last month while attending the National Catholic Youth Conference, held Nov. 16-18 at the Lucas Oil Stadium and at the Indiana Convention Center, both in Indianapolis. They were among approximately 13,000 people in attendance at NCYC, who in a distinctly Catholic setting, encountered Christ, experienced the Church, and were ultimately empowered for discipleship.

Kyle Holtgrave, director of Catechesis for the Springfield diocese, said as far as he knows diocesan  parishes that had people who traveled to NCYC were from Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Springfield; St. Agnes, Springfield; St. Jude, Rochester; St. Joseph the Worker, Chatham; St. Paul, Highland; Immaculate Conception, Mattoon; Holy Family, Decatur; St. Patrick, Pana; Our Saviour, Jacksonville, and St. Charles Borromeo, Charleston. Father McGivney Catholic High School and Great River TEC from Quincy had attendees as well.  Also traveling to the event were Fathers Steve Arisman, Braden Maher, Joe Ring, Zach Samples, and Mark Tracy; and diocesan seminarian Jacob Esker from St. Isidore the Farmer Parish in Dieterich.

The conference featured an opening performance by a Christian artist; an opening prayer and ceremony;   a number of presentations, general sessions and workshops; opportunities for reconciliation and adoration; a Holy Hour; Masses in a nearby church, and a closing Mass.  “The theme of the 2023 event was ‘Fully Alive’ and the keynote addresses as well as the breakout sessions helped us unpack that theme of how we are fully alive in Jesus Christ,” said Holtgrave, who has been attending NCYC since 1999  and only missed one in 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. “My overall impression was that the Holy Spirit was moving a lot of people in a positive direction.”

Holtgrave said the event was powerful from start to finish. “The homily at the closing Mass included some very powerful challenges for the Church to achieve, and the response to these challenges from the congregation was extremely enthusiastic.”

The young people were not only faith-filled, but they were patient.  “One of the most inspiring things for me when I go to these events is to see how faith-filled young people are. During adoration, dozens of young people rushed forward to the stage to kneel instead of staying in their seats,” Holtgrave said. “The line for reconciliation had hundreds of people in a line that wound around the inside of a large meeting hall in the convention center and then out into the main hallway past several other meeting hall entrances. If someone would call out ‘Body and Blood!’ everyone around would respond, ‘Soul and Divinity!’ It took a lot of patience and courtesy to navigate around the halls and everyone seemed to respond in a Christian manner despite the many obstacles in the common areas.”

Rachel Holtgrave, a student at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, went to NCYC with her father.  “I learned a lot from the three breakout sessions that I decided to go to — and it was great having time to spend with new people who have become friends of mine,” she said.

A member of the St. Paul youth group in Highland, Lynzie, said, “My favorite part was adoration because I love spending time with the Lord. Also, I connected most with Christ during Mass in Lucas Oil because every single person in the stadium was singing.”

As a parent and one of the adult attendees, Adrienne Lane of Holy Family Parish in Decatur, said she was impressed both during and after the event. “NCYC helped my teens to see that they are not alone in their faith or in the priority they put on their faith. NCYC also helped them see how faith, fun, and community are connected and important to growing in faith and living Fully Alive. As a parent, I have really enjoyed hearing my three teens come home and enthusiastically describe their experiences and things they learned to their younger sister. Now she can’t wait to attend in two years.”

Lane’s son, high school senior Allan Lane, said that of all the NCYC events, he was most impressed with time in adoration. “When there are 13,000 people kneeling in respect, praying in homage, and knowing the Lord is present, it sends a shiver down your spine because you feel the Holy Spirit come into the stadium and set a fire in your heart. Everything outside the stadium faded; no more worry over tests, drama, or school; family or holiday drama; and problems in the world. It was all replaced with an incredible sense of fulfillment, like my heart was overflowing with love and thankfulness for God.”

Grace Stenke, youth minister at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Chatham, said she was fulfilled after attending NCYC with her youth group and two other adults. “The St. Joseph youth found this experience to be exciting because there were so many other youths from different parishes nationwide gathered at this conference. The other youth are just as on fire about their faith as our youth and they loved seeing this. It is an amazing way for youth to see that there are thousands of other Catholic high schoolers in the nation who think the same way as them.”

Carrie Albaugh, pastoral associate for youth faith formation at St. Paul Parish, added,  “As youth leaders we may have a lot to learn ourselves or need a spark to know how to explain concepts differently to our youth. Likewise, the youth need to hear the messages from someone else and be in the presence of others who are on the same part of their faith journey.”

Jennifer Frericks, director of Total Faith Formation at St. Jude in Rochester, found her second trip to NCYC to be full of positive experiences. “Everything is geared to giving everyone tools to live forward in their faith in this day and age, and to witness they aren’t alone in this journey — literally 12,000 youth and adults were there with them,” she said.

Finally, another adult who traveled from Holy Family in Decatur, Deena Warrick, summed it up this way: “I was so impressed and filled with the Holy Spirit that I can’t wait for 2025. … It can be challenging to be a Catholic some days, but at NCYC we were welcome to express our faith and show how much we love God and are thankful for Jesus who died for us.”

Note:  Indianapolis will once again host NCYC from Nov. 20-22 , 2025. The “West Coast” option will be held in Long Beach, Calif., Nov. 14-16, 2024.

At NCYC and at home, youth are the ‘future’ and the ‘present’ of the Church

Father Zach Samples found NCYC both fulfilling and thought-provoking. “My first time attending NCYC was when I was doing some youth ministry work at Immaculate Conception Parish in Mattoon, prior to entering seminary. Personally, it was very moving to attend my first NCYC since my ordination to the priesthood. It was sort of a full circle moment for me.

“To say that it was incredibly moving to see thousands of young people on fire for their Catholic faith would be an understatement,” said Father Samples, who is parochial vicar at St. Peter Parish in Quincy and associate chaplain at Quincy Notre Dame High School.

Moved as he was, Father Samples has something else to say about youth and their faith. “It is pet peeve of mine to refer to our young people as the ‘future of the Church’ because I believe that while it is certainly true that they are the ‘future,’ they are also the ‘present.’  They have as much of a role to play in the life of the Church as anyone else does, and experiences like NCYC really offer an opportunity for this responsibility to grow within them.

“Coming back from experiences like NCYC, or retreat, pilgrimages, always comes with a sort of ‘faith high.’ During these experiences, we encounter Jesus in new and exciting ways and the Spirit moves deep within us,” he said. “The best way to sustain that ‘faith high’ is to take those encounters with Jesus and those movements of the Spirit, and to put them into action. Making sure that we are in church every Sunday, volunteering in our parish in new ways, nourishing our prayer lives, deepening our relationship with Christ, and serving those in need.”