Catholic youth conference joins thousands

The stadium grew hushed as the lights dimmed and the monks began sing. Their voices cut through the silence. Twenty five thousand high school youth sat quietly and listened. The air was still. The song reverberated off of the stadium walls, filling the space with the life.  In silent adoration, listening to the monks’ melody, the youth sat and prayed.

On Thursday, Nov. 16, 12 Cedar Falls students embarked on a journey to Indianapolis, Ind., for the National Catholic Youth Conference, or NCYC. The conference occurs every two years and hosts nearly 25,000 catholic youth, with individuals traveling from all 50 states and several countries to come take part in worship.

The conference lasted for four days, featuring keynote speakers like Chris Stefanik and popular contempory musicians, Tobymac and Matt Maur.

Students Alexa Balong, Lauren Smothers, Abby Balong, Julia Hetherton, Shaffer Kirschenman, Margaret Schaefer, Roxanna Arreola, Carolina Guevara, Clare Rolinger and Kate Mauss all attended the conference through Saint Patrick’s Parish.

The youth fundraised for the trip months in advance in order to cover the costs of the conference. Chick-fil-a fundraising nights and spaghetti dinners were only a few of the many things that the students did to collect funds.

Rosie Guerrero, Youth Faith Formation Coordinator at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church and Head Chaperone on the trip, explained the intense preparation that went into getting ready for NCYC.

“It was a good year-long process. A lot of fundraising helped with the costs to make NCYC more affordable for the students, and, of course, there was a lot of spiritual preparation as well — making sure that everyone realized that it wasn’t just a conference to go have fun, but that it would be an experience for spiritual growth.”

Sophomore Abby Balong said she discovered a newfound joy in her faith since attending NCYC.

“I took away a new understanding and love of my faith. It was incredible to see and feel the love and hope of so many people in one place. I feel more connected with other catholic youth around the country and know that I am supported by all of them,” Balong said. “I hope to continue to deepen my connection with God and my community. I also hope there will be opportunities to share what I have learned and some of the experiences with others in my church so that they can see how the Catholic Church is growing.”

This year marked the second year that senior Alexa Balong attended NCYC, and she said it has changed her view of the world dramatically.

“This experience at NCYC left me with one question: How are you going to change the way you look at the world and others with the new found knowledge of our Lord? It took me a while to really come up with what I needed to do before I realized I had already been doing things differently and thinking differently. I have more of an open mind and see more of who I could be instead of who I am. If you are struggling to really understand our Lord and what to believe and how to put him first in our everyday lives and how to follow in his footsteps, NCYC is the perfect opportunity for you to learn about God and grow in your faith and as a person.”

“NCYC isn’t about getting out of school for two days,” added Senior Lauren Smothers. “It’s about giving your time to God and feeling relaxed and comfortable with the people around you. It was an amazing experience to see 25,000 people singing together and also stunning to have those same 25,000 teenagers be completely silent during adoration. I left changed, I left feeling better about myself and closer with God.”

Guerrero shares the joy that it brings her to witness her students growing in their relationships with Christ.

“It was very beautiful to witness all twelve of the youth enjoying themselves and really being a part of the experience and letting Christ into their lives. I loved seeing everyone smiling and getting engaged by what was happening with the speakers and the musicians. Just being able to witness it all happen and see all of that growth, seeing how their faith was not only growing from the inside, but being displayed on the outside — that was my favorite part.”

Guerrero said one of her favorite things that the conference focused on was humanity’s calling to love one another.

“We must love our brothers and sisters even if we are a different race, religion, sexuality even. Our teachings may not always be eye to eye, but we are all a part of humanity. If we truly know who Christ is, I believe that we understand each person is made individually unique and we are all called to love,” Guerrero said.

“The catholic church is always there to help and assist, and I know sometimes there are some misconceptions about what the church teaches, and so this was an opportunity to really learn about those teachings and find peace in that and then work to educate everyone else on them as well. I want people to consider attending church as an option. Go and find out about us. Seek out your faith and take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you.”

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