They joined more than 20,000 of their peers at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the annual event bringing U.S. youths together
A delegation of high school students from across the Diocese of Knoxville joined some 23,000 peers from around the country at the 2019 edition of the National Catholic Youth Conference, which was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in November.
The conference theme, “Blessed, Broken, Given,” resonated with the students, many of whom reflected on the blessings in their lives, how at one time or another they have felt broken in the presence of God, and how God gave us His Son, Jesus, who asks us to give ourselves to Him.
Riley Parsons was among the dozens of diocesan teens at the NCYC event who were excited to be in Indianapolis.
“After a long bus ride to Indianapolis, the high school youth of the Diocese of Knoxville were ready for the first night in Lucas Oil Stadium. The opening featured For King and Country, a Christian band from Australia led by two brothers. I had the opportunity to arrive early as a media representative for the Diocese of Knoxville. I attended the Region 5 meeting and greeted For King and Country. More than 1,000 people from all over Region 5 were able to ask the band questions. During the interview, Joel Smallbone, one of the band members, said they put on a different type of show compared to other Christian artists. For example, during the show they played lots of drums all around the stage. And during their hit song ‘Joy,’ confetti burst out of cannons while Joel was spinning around the stage,” Riley said, recounting his first NCYC experience.
After the performance, Region 5 members were introduced to the conference emcees, Katie Prejean McGrady, who was a U.S. delegate sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering of young people, and Father Agustino Torres, CFR. Ms. Prejean McGrady is a Catholic speaker and the author of Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus. Father Torres is a priest with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal based in New York. He is the founder of Corazon Puro, an organization dedicated to forming youth. He hosts the EWTN television shows Icons and Clic con Corazon Puro in Spanish.
Father Torres was one of the friars who founded Catholic Underground, an apostolate of the Friars of the Renewal, and the Casa Guadalupe (women) and JPII (men) houses of discernment. He is internationally sought to address topics such as the Church’s teachings about human sexuality, vocational discernment, and missionary discipleship.
A surprise greeted all those in attendance during the NCYC opening session. Appearing on the jumbotron was a video recording of Pope Francis, who greeted the youth.
“May this be an opportunity to strengthen and increase faith and Communion. May it light your missionary hearts with the courage and strength to live in and with the Lord, always as a Church send forth,” the Holy Father said.
Riley said he and the other Diocese of Knoxville attendees especially liked the conference breakout sessions, which were led by notable speakers like the “cooking priest” Father Leo Patalinghug, author and speaker Mark Hart, Ms. Prejean McGrady, and Father Torres. Some different sessions attracted youth and adults alike, Riley noted.
The “Deep Dive” sessions included “Being Better Together Building Community,” “Influence the World for Jesus,” and “Balancing Faith and Sports.”
“If there was something you wanted to learn about, you could probably have found a session about it,” Riley said. “I went to two different sessions during this time. One about ‘Finding God’s Direction in a Noisy World’ with Joel Stepanek. Joel said there are little decisions that we make daily that don’t really affect our life but we have trouble making them. It’s important to make good, holy decisions whether they are big or small. The second session I went to was ‘Sports, Spectator, Athlete, or Coach. What is Your Role?’ with David Neeson. David talked about doing things for sports but not for God, like how if Mass runs late, we don’t want to stay longer. But if a game goes into overtime, we want to stay for all of it.
“Other youth from the diocese went to some breakout sessions like ‘Bible Crash Course’ with Katie Patrizio, which was about putting the Bible into a different perspective and how to pray with the Bible. There also was ‘Unmatched Courage’ with Steve Angrisano and Cooper Ray on living a heroic life witnessing to Jesus.”
Riley explained that large group sessions in Lucas Oil Stadium were held in the morning and evening, where more than 20,000 Catholic youth and adults joined together for adoration, youth testimonies, and keynote speakers.
One speaker, Immaculée Ilibagiza, talked about how in her family she was the sole survivor of the Rwandan genocide. She was forced to hide in a small bathroom with other women for more than six months. During that time she grew closer to God and said 30 rosaries and 15 Divine Mercy chaplets per day.
“I had a chance to interview several of the youth from the Diocese of Knoxville while at dinner on the second night of the conference. One of the youth, Matias Ron from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish [in Chattanooga], said, ‘It’s really cool when you go into the stadium and you see all the youth from all over the country, especially in adoration. The silence; it is unimaginable how all those people are there and it’s so silent,’” Riley said. “My experience at the National Catholic Youth Conference helped me get closer to God and learn different ways to strengthen my faith and pray. Even though this event only happens every other year, I am excited to attend other youth events and retreats in the meantime. I highly encourage more youth from the Diocese of Knoxville to attend not only NCYC 2021 but other youth events organized by their local parishes and diocese.”