2017 National Catholic Youth Conference Courier story by Gina Capellazzi - Courier photos by Jeff Witherow

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.
SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top left: The Roman Missal is brought into Lucas Oil Stadium during the morning procession Nov. 18. Center left: Quinn Mulhern (left) and Anthony Silivestro of Parish of the Holy Family in Gates say a prayer the morning of Nov. 18. Top right: A cross stands inside of Lucas Oil stadium during Mass the evening of Nov. 18. Bottom left: Joe McDonald of St. John of Rochester in Fairport cheers during the opening ceremony Nov. 16. Bottom center: Matt Maher performs on the main stage the evening of Nov. 17. Bottom right: Regina Wol presents on the main stage in the morning of Nov. 17.
SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top left: An NCYC attendee stands during a performance by Matt Maher Nov. 17. Top right: Jamie D’Agostino from St. Theodore Church in Gates offers free hugs Nov. 17. Bottom left: Cameras record the Mass at Lucas Oil Stadium Nov. 18. Bottom right: Chris Bunk listens to TobyMac performing on the main stage Nov. 16.

Hailing from all corners of the Rochester Diocese, they traveled by bus for more than nine hours to attend the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. The biannual conference, organized by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, brought together more than 22,000 youths and chaperones representing 125 dioceses around the country to pray, learn and grow in faith.

During the 2017 conference, which took place Nov. 16-18, participants attended workshops led by nationally known Catholic speakers; had some fun with interactive games and activities in the Thematic Village; danced to nationally known Christian recording artists; worshipped at Mass and in personal and communal prayer; and participated in the sacraments of Communion and reconciliation.

Two members of the Catholic Courier staff traveled to Indianapolis with pilgrims from the Rochester Diocese to document their NCYC adventures and gather firsthand reactions to what many have called a life-changing faith experience.

Teens extend their hands while blessing keynote speaker Roy Petitfils Nov. 17.

Welcome to Indianapolis

"When I say N-c, you say y-C! NC-yC! Nc-YC!"

Early in the evening of Nov. 15, five buses, carrying more than 250 teens and chaperones from 19 parishes in the Diocese of Rochester, arrived at the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing, just outside downtown Indianapolis.

Youths from St. John of Rochester in Fairport and St. Pius Tenth in Chili exit the bus after arriving in Indianapolis.

After checking in and getting dinner at various restaurants near the hotel, the teens reconvened at the hotel for a dance party with Catholic entertainer DJ Bill Lage. Lage taught the teens the popular conference dance, “The Catholic Dance,” which is set to the song “Larger than Life” by the Backstreet Boys. The teens’ goal was to teach others the dance throughout the conference.

Above: A Rochester youth takes to the dance floor wearing light-up shoes Nov. 15. Right: Chaperones Christelle Hunzek (left) and Hannah Bartolotto take part in a dance party.
Above: Mike Daly of St. Pius Tenth in Chili dances with fellow NCYC pilgrims from the Diocese of Rochester during a dance party the night of arrival Nov. 15. Left: DJ Bill Lage takes a selfie with youths during the dance party.

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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top left: Diocese of Rochester pilgrims wear their NCYC hats before Mass Nov. 16. Top center: Father Matthew Jones processes into Mass. Top right: Jimmy Muscatella bows his head in prayer. Left center: Father David Tedesche sings a hymn. Bottom left: Katrina Nicholas receives Communion during Mass. Bottom right: Father Jones gives the homily.

In keeping with the Rochester Diocese’s ongoing Year of the Eucharist, Father Jones focused his homily on the centrality of the Eucharist. He noted that during Pope Francis’ audience the day before, the pontiff had called receiving the sacrament “the prayer par excellence,” meaning the best of its kind.

Father Jones noted that the purpose of the youths’ pilgrimages to NCYC was to celebrate the Eucharist with their brothers and sisters in Christ and to deepen their faith. And along the way, they’d make new friends as well.

Toward the end of his homily, he asked the youths why they chose to attend the conference.

“Not days off from school, right? Not days off from work, right?” he joked. “Not in the least of it. In fact, this is probably going to be a far more intense experience than you ever had.”

Father Matthew Jones celebrates a Mass with the entire Diocese of Rochester contingent at the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing Nov. 15. Before Mass, members of the DOR Department of Evangelization and Catechesis share some opening remarks. (Mass starts at 21:50, length 1:02:14.)

NCYC attendees walk from the Indiana Convention Center to Lucas Oil Stadium the evening of Nov. 17.

Saying 'yes' to God

"Adoration was one of the coolest things I have done in a long time." -- Matthew Vankuren, St. Patrick Church, Victor

Youths and chaperones gathered in Lucas Oil Stadium for general sessions every morning and evening.

Christian hip-hop artist TobyMac opened the conference Thursday evening by playing a selection of his favorite hits, including “Love Broke Through” and “Move (Keep Walkin’).” Following his performance, youth representatives from each diocese/archdiocese processed in and marched around the floor of the stadium carrying their dioceses’ banners, marking the official start of the conference.

Thursday’s keynote speaker was Chris Stefanick of Real Life Catholic, who discussed love as the foundation of our lives and the fact that we are all seeking a love bigger than ourselves.

“Pope Francis recently said, ‘We are in the midst of a love story,’ and if we don’t understand that, we have understood nothing of what the church is,” Stefanick said.

Above: Emma Mazzola (from left), Nicole Perrello and Micaela Deutsch of Parish of the Holy Family in Gates watch TobyMac perform on the main stage Nov. 16. Left: TobyMac performs on the main stage during the opening ceremony.
Above: Alexis Raniewicz (from left), Abbie Stair, Jonathan Bunk and Aiden Flaherty sway together during a performance by Matt Maher Nov. 17. Right: TobyMac performs on the main stage Nov. 16.
Above: Ashley Blank and Father Joseph Marcoux watch the opening ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium Nov. 16. Right: The Diocese of Rochester's banner is carried into the arena during the opening ceremony.
Emcees Father Joseph A. Espaillat II (above) and Emily Wilson (right) speak on the main stage during the opening ceremony Nov. 16.
Above: Sarah Garczynski bows her head in prayer during the opening ceremony Nov. 16. Right: Chris Stefanick gives the keynote address on the opening night of the conference.

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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top: Matt Maher performs on the main stage Nov. 17. Left: Pianist and speaker Nolan Snyder, a high-school senior from Fulda, Ind., shares some remarks Nov. 15. Right upper: A statue of Mary stands near the main stage Nov. 17. Right Bottom: Roy Petitfils speaks on the main stage Nov. 17. Bottom left: Sand artwork depicting the day's theme is brought into the stadium the morning of Nov. 18. Bottom center: Brian Greenfield stands onstage before a gathering of delegation leaders Nov. 18. Bottom right: Sister Miriam James Heidland gives a presentation Nov. 17.
"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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Left: Father Joseph A. Espaillat II carries the Blessed Sacrament from the main stage following adoration Nov. 17. Right upper: Lillie Cook kneels in prayer during adoration Nov. 17. Right bottom: Father Espaillat incenses the altar at the start of adoration Nov. 17.

The Blessed Mother was honored during the final morning session on Saturday, and the conference’s final keynote speaker was Brian Greenfield, a motivational youth speaker from Tampa, Fla. He told the teens that because of Mary’s “yes” to becoming the mother of God’s son, they also can say “yes“ to God and their faith.

“In a world full of ‘nos,’ we can say ‘yes,’” Greenfield told the teens. “When our yeses have power, then we can see change. That’s what God is calling us to do today.”

Greenfield concluded his address by blessing delegation leaders, youth ministers and the teens. He asked the young people to stand and close their eyes, then consider how their willingness to say “yes” to answering God’s call would change if they didn’t care about what others thought. With their eyes still closed, Greenfield asked the teens to extend their hands if they were willing to say “yes” to God. When he invited them to open their eyes, the stadium was filled with extended hands.

"I thought it was really cool, the Speech (by BRIAN GREENFIELD), and how he got everybody to stand up." -- Michael Bayley, St. Patrick Church, Victor
Youths fill the Indiana Convention Center during the day's activities Nov. 17.

Mega talks and epic trades

"WHEN YOU WALK IN THERE AND SEE EVERYONE is like ONE WITH GOD, THAT IS NOT SOMETHING I TYPICALLY GET TO EXPERIENCE other than IN MY CHURCH. eVeryone has the same relationship with god that I have, and that's pretty cool for me to see." -- REAGAN GENSIEJEWSKI, ST. PATRICK CHURCH, VICTOR

Although many of NCYC’s largest events took place at Lucas Oil Stadium during the mornings and the evenings, an assortment of offerings were available throughout the day at the Indiana Convention Center.

The three-day conference featured more than 100 breakout sessions. Some of the sessions, called mega workshops, accommodated 3,500 to 6,000 teens. The mega workshops featured a number of Catholic speakers and artists from around the country, including Jason and Crystalina Evert of the Chasity Project; Jesse Manibusan, a contemporary Catholic artist; and Father Leo Patalinghug, who is known as “the cooking priest.” The sessions covered a range of topics geared not only toward youths, but toward parents and young adults as well, such as discerning God’s will, college preparation and family anxieties.

"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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top left: Mike Patin gives a presentation during a mega session Nov. 17. Top right: Micah Malijan takes a selfie with another NCYC attendee after swapping hats Nov. 16. Center right: Andrew Laubacher performs before a mega session at the convention center Nov. 17. Center left: Meals are bagged for Catholic Relief Services Nov. 17. Bottom left: A crowd gathers around the Phatmass table inside the Thematic Village Nov. 18. Bottom left: Artist Mike Debus paints in front of a youth audience Nov. 18.
"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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Left: Teens line a Gaga pit inside the Thematic Village Nov. 17. Right: Youths watch a human foosball game with a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis Nov. 17.

“I was kind of happy to get rid of my hat, because my fear was I was going to get stuck with the birthday hat all weekend,” said Reagan Gensiejewski, who initially traded for an Abraham Lincoln hat, and then traded that hat for a rainbow light-up fedora.

“I’m working for a cowboy hat,” she added.

VIDEO: Youths from the Diocese of Rochester discuss their experiences trading their NCYC hats with pilgrims from around the country.

Hosts wait near the stage during Mass Nov. 18.

Serve the Lord in every moment

"It just kind of just hits you in the heart. It is not just something you go to and leave like the same. I came with not much of a faith and just being here, it kind of just revived me almost." -- Sarah Dickman

On the conference’s final evening, the Diocese of Rochester’s pilgrims celebrated Mass with their peers at Lucas Oil Stadium before boarding their buses for the long journey home. The liturgy’s principle celebrant was Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, with 13 bishops and hundreds of priests from across the country serving as concelebrants.

Candles are brought into the arena before the closing Mass Nov. 18.
Sister Donna Del Santo (left) and Sister Laurie Orman process into the stadium for the Nov. 18 Mass.

As it was for many of the teens in attendance, the conference marked Archbishop Gomez’s first experience with NCYC. At the start of his homily, the archbishop said the first thing he learned at the event was the NCYC chant, in which he led the teens before continuing his remarks.

Above: Emma Flaherty looks up to the main stage. Right: Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles speaks to more than 22,000 youths during NCYC's closing Mass at Lucas Oil Stadium Nov. 18.
Fathers Paul English (above) and Matthew Jones (right) look at the stage during Mass.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles gives the homily Nov. 18.

“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.

SELECT PHOTO TO VIEW LARGER. Top: Archbishop José H. Gomez raises the chalice during the Nov. 18 closing Mass at Lucas Oil Stadium. Bottom left: Archbishop Gomez accepts the gifts. Bottom right: Father Michael Schramel distributes Communion.

Blessed Solanus’ example is how God wants us to live, Archbishop Gomez told the teens.

“We can strive for holiness, because it is not something special and spectacular, it is doing God’s life in the simple things of our daily life,” he said.

Archbishop Gomez concluded his remarks with some advice for the teens. He said the most important thing for them to do after NCYC is to spend time in prayer.

“Make sure you find a little time every day to be quiet and to just talk to Jesus,” Archbishop Gomez advised. “Tell him what’s in your heart, ask him for help and listen to him. I promise you, if you spend time in prayer every day, it will change your lives.”

The Mass ended in a big celebration as the youths sang and danced, doing the Catholic Dance all together for the last time.

Still on a high note from all that unfolded during the three-day conference, the Rochester teens boarded the buses, pulled out from Indianapolis and headed home.

"I’m definitely coming back. I have had a great experience. There are always ups and downs with every trip that you go on, but I would definitely come back." -- Sarah Dickman

VIDEO: Youths from the Diocese of Rochester reflect on their experiences at the National Catholic Youth Conference.

"I think this (experience) is going to help me bind closer to God, keep him in my life and in the decisions I make." -- Jake Black
“I’m hoping to take away the same drive and passion. Everyone here wants to be Christ for everybody, but in everyday life that is not the same way, so if I could, I would want to be that (Christ) for other people.” -- Matthew VanKuren
A teen lifts his hands during a performance by Matt Maher Nov. 17.

Unless otherwise noted, all material © 2017, Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc.


Courier story by Gina Capellazzi, Courier photos by Jeff Witherow

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