Published Dec. 4, 2017
For three days, more than 400 youths from the Diocese of Rochester put away their school books and embarked on a pilgrimage affording opportunities to deepen their catholic faith.
While those teens were enjoying their first evening in Indianapolis, three diocesan buses were still heading toward the conference. The 180 pilgrims who were aboard arrived at the hotel in the wee hours of Nov. 16.
Despite their lack of sleep due to the long trip, the diocesan youths arose early on Nov. 16 to begin their National Catholic Youth Conference experience. As they streamed into the hotel conference room to celebrate Mass with the entire diocesan contingent, many were excited and eager for what was to unfold over the next three days.
Principal celebrant for the Mass was Father Matthew Jones, parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament, St. Mary and St. Boniface parishes in Rochester. Concelebrants were Father Raymond Fleming, pastor of St. Monica Parish and Emmanuel Church of the Deaf in Rochester; Father Michael Schramel, pastor of Parish of the Holy Family in Gates; Father Peter Clifford, pastor of St. John of Rochester Church in Fairport; Father Louis Sirianni, pastor of St. Mark Church in Greece; Basilian Father Paul English, pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Irondequoit; Father David Tedesche, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wayne County; and Father Joseph Marcoux, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Ithaca. Diocesan youths assisted in the liturgy as readers, altar servers and singers in the choir.
Friday’s morning session celebrated the saints, focusing specifically on Servant of God Thea Bowman, Venerable Pierre Toussant, Blessed Pierre Georgrio Frassati, St. Joselito Sanchez del Rio, St. Teresa of Los Andes, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Andrew Dung-Lac, St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Damien of Molokai. The keynote speaker was Sister Miriam James Heidland, who joined the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity after graduating college at the University of Nevada-Reno, where she had played Division I volleyball.
"I was crying sometimes because I felt like they (The keynote speakers) were speaking directly towards me." -- Sarah Dickman, SOUTHEAST ROCHESTER CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
That evening, the focus turned to the Word of God and the Eucharist. Catholic contemporary artist Matt Maher was the warm-up artist for the evening, followed by keynote speaker Roy Petitfils, a licensed therapist at a Catholic counseling center that specializes in working with teens and families.
Following Petitfils’ presentation, a hush fell over the stadium as Father Joseph Espaillat II of the Archdiocese of New York and the monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey led eucharistic adoration and compline. Everyone dropped to their knees in prayer as the Blessed Sacrament was carried into the stadium. The only sound that could be heard was the whir of the arena’s ventilation system.
"We were all just having fun, and everyone was enjoying Paul J. Kim's presence. And then all of sudden, he told everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes. Right then and there, we didn’t know but we were all meditating. You could feel God’s presence in front of you, behind you, just comforting you as you were just meditating." -- Jake black, St. Pius Tenth Church, Chili
Right: Paul Kim speaks during a mega session in the Indiana Convention Center Nov. 17.
The conference also included a variety of activities conducted in a 225,000-square-foot area of the convention center that was called the Thematic Village. Based on the theme “From Sea to Shining Sea,” the village featured games, activities and information booths presented by various Catholic organizations.
Offerings were spread around the village’s various sections, which represented U.S. regions. The Midwest region, for example, featured an area called Mount Prayer More, the NCYC version of Mount Rushmore. In this area, teens could enjoy a game of Pickle Ball or become human players in a giant version of foosball.
In the Midwest Cornfields, there was an opportunity to participate in such service projects as decorating T-shirts for children in Haiti and bagging meals for Catholic Relief Services.
And Paradise Perk, located in the South region, offered a relaxing atmosphere where youths could hang out and listen to music from a variety of artists, including Izzy Hunzek, a parishioner of St. John of Rochester in Fairport who was a past finalist in NCYC’s talent competition.
"It is just really fun to see everyone, because we are all here for the same reason and everyone is just so positive. It's a great environment." -- Sofia DeCarlo, St. Patrick Church, Victor
Throughout the halls of the Thematic Village, participants could be seen taking part in a long-standing NCYC tradition: the trading of hats and other items among the youths and adults alike.
Youths from each diocese/archdiocese brought unique hats to trade with fellow pilgrims. Teens could be seen wearing hats shaped like corncobs, pizza, various animals and even a papal mitre. The Rochester contingent honored the diocese’s upcoming sesquicentennial by wearing birthday-cake-shaped hats with “candles” that lit up.
Upon entering the Indiana Convention Center’s hall on the conference’s first day, it didn’t take long for the teens from St. Patrick Church in Victor to see what they could exchange their hats for.
“When I say N-C, you say Y-C! NC-YC, NC-YC!”
“You inspired me, you give us hope. The future of the church is good hands with you,” he then told the teens, causing them to erupt in cheers.
The archbishop told the teens that God is calling each and every one of them to be a saint.
He used as an example the beatification of Blessed Father Solanus Casey, which took place in Detroit earlier that day. Blessed Solanus, a Capuchin friar, had many jobs before entering the seminary, from prison guard to hospital worker to street car operator, the archbishop noted. Although he was not the most intelligent man and wound up flunking out of St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee before joining the Capuchins, Archbishop Gomez said God had given Blessed Solanus many gifts, such as being a good listener, deep faith and a deep devotion to Jesus. After he was ordained a Capuchin friar, people from all over the country came to talk to Blessed Solanus and share their joys and troubles with him.
These conversations led to the occurrence of miracles, but they are not the reason Blessed Solanus is on the path to sainthood, Archbishop Gomez said.
“He’s a saint because he tried to serve God in every moment. He’s a saint because he used all his gifts to serve God and to help others to find God’s love,” he said.
Courier story by Gina Capellazzi, Courier photos by Jeff Witherow