Just about every day we are bombarded with bad news—about our country, our Church, our world. It’s enough to make even the brightest optimist’s spirits dim. But I was privy to something recently that made this sometimes-pessimist feel a surge of hope for tomorrow, at least where our Church is concerned.
I spent three days with 23,000 teenagers, 20 of them from my own upstate New York parish, at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, and, let me tell you, if you think our Church is in some sort of downward spiral, you need to get yourself to the next NCYC conference. And fast. There, in Lucas Oil Stadium, surrounded by screaming, singing, dancing teens, I glimpsed the future leaders of our Church in action, and I felt renewed.
On the surface, it’s easy to think a three-day conference that pulls kids out of school for two days is nothing more than a fun trip away from mom and dad, but that would be missing the mark by too many miles to count. Between the months or even years of fund-raising to get to the biennial event, the hours of travel by plane or bus, the complex topics tackled in mega sessions and small workshops, these kids (and their parent chaperones) are challenged at every turn and on many levels, and yet it is a challenge worth taking, one I will gladly take on again when my tween reaches high school.
Sitting on the 50-yard line of the packed stadium, I was overwhelmed by the willingness of these teens to open themselves up to a faith experience like none other. They prayed the Divine Office in song and dance, they sat it total silence during lectio divina, they stood on line by the hundreds at the nearby convention center to go to confession, they rushed to Victory Park to ask the 30 bishops in attendance to sign their bishop trading cards, and they went to adoration and diocesan Masses and one workshop after another. After one particularly powerful workshop, Noah called my husband, Dennis, to tell him just how good the priest presenter was. Then he asked me if there was a DVD of it. How often does a teenager ask for a DVD of any sort of faith presentation? That’s the power of this kind of event.
When I was a member of CYO as a teen at St. Aedan’s parish in Pearl River, I was privileged to attend the archdiocesan youth conferences each year. Those experiences lingered long after I returned home. In fact, they helped shape me into who I would eventually become and are in no small part a reason I ended up choosing a career in the Catholic press. As I looked around the stadium this week, I imagined how the NCYC event would echo in the lives of these teens for years to come, making them stronger Catholics, more-grounded adults and courageous leaders.
At the closing Mass, after an awesome procession of almost 300 priests and deacons, 175 seminarians and eight bishops—a sight that left the kids wide-eyed with gratitude and excitement—the teens were told to take out their cell phones and text the words “called to glory” (the theme of the event) to all of their contacts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. As screens glowed in the darkness and kids clicked “send,” there was a powerful sense of what’s to come for all of us, and I couldn’t help but smile and look forward with anticipation to what this group of Catholic teens will one day do to shape our Church and our world.
The surveys and headlines may tell us things look bleak, but, from where I was sitting amid a sea of teens in hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the words and signs of their faith, the view was bright and clear and brimming with hope.
Mary DeTurris Poust’s most recent book is “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass.” Visit her at www.marydeturrispoust.com.
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