‘Greatest experience’ — Diocesan teens, Bishop Tylka among 11,000 at NCYC 2021

Pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria are pictured in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis during a Nov. 19 general session of the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Provided photo/Phil Lee)

Celie Leibach will remember the “amazement” of being with nearly 11,000 teens from across the country at Lucas Oil Stadium for the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis.

“I could feel the Holy Spirit in the room,” said the junior at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign, adding that “seeing that many people who are also Catholic helps push me to keep growing in my Catholic faith.”

Students from The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign are pictured at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. (Provided photo)

Leibach was among about 30 pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria who took part in the Nov. 18-20 youth gathering, known as NCYC. Various safety measures were put in place to ensure safety during the continuing pandemic, including limiting the crowd size to about half the normal 20,000.

Scott Anderson of Peoria Notre Dame agreed with Leibach about the memorable closing Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis.

“Everyone shamelessly sang and worshipped,” said Anderson, “creating an environment that was impactful to my own faith life. I am more confident to share my faith with others because I have seen the masses that expressed their faith openly. I know I am not alone wherever I go.”


Among those from the Diocese of Peoria taking part in NCYC was Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, who flew to Indianapolis immediately after participating in the U.S. bishops’ fall assembly in Baltimore.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka is pictured with pilgrims from the Diocese of Peoria attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. This photo was taken the morning of Nov. 19 at St. John the Evangelist Church after Bishop Tylka celebrated Mass for about 350 conference participants. (Provided photo)

While Bishop Tylka had attended previous conferences as a pastor with youth from his parishes, this was the first time he was present as a bishop. He celebrated a Mass for the diocesan pilgrims — and about 300 other attendees — on Friday morning at nearby St. John the Evangelist Church. He also spent time in a booth sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops where teens could “meet and talk with a bishop,” as well as in a booth promoting the legacy and canonization cause of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

“We gave more than 12,000 rosaries away,” said Bishop Tylka of the Sheen booth, which was staffed by Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Peoria-based Sheen Foundation, and Julie Enzenberger.

“To walk around as a bishop and encounter young people excited about their faith and happy to be together, having a good time, and also deepening their encounter with the Lord . . . it was a great joy to see that and be a part of that,” said Bishop Tylka.

He noted the teens could be full of enthusiasm and energy as they joined in contemporary music with Christian lyrics, and then be “just as enthusiastic and energized” in moments of quiet prayer.


In addition to Bishop Tylka and the Sheen Foundation staff, the diocesan pilgrims included four students and a chaperone from Peoria Notre Dame; three students and a chaperone from The High School of Saint Thomas More; six students, a chaperone, and chaplain Father Geoff Horton from Central Catholic in Bloomington; and four students and chaplain Father Austin Bosse from Marquette Academy in Ottawa. Two youth leaders from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton attended, as did seminarian Ryan Mann and a few members of the diocesan staff.

Peoria Notre Dame pilgrims at NCYC 2021 included, from left, Regan Ruggerio, Scott Anderson, Carlo Panettone, Felicity Olsen, and teacher Shelby Harrison. (Provided photo)

Jenna Gamons of Marquette Academy appreciated how the various speakers related to the youth in their inspirational talks.

“It was a great learning experience and I met so many new friends,” said Gamons.

Among the adults present was Judi Sherman of the theology department at The High School of Saint Thomas More. She called the worship experiences at NCYC, including eucharistic adoration, “a foretaste of heaven,” adding she will always remember “the river of priests and bishops” processing in for the closing Mass.

“What my soul was experiencing was truly ineffable,” she told The Catholic Post.

The theme of the conference was “Ablaze,” and the diocese’s pilgrims came home on fire for their faith and open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

“This was one of the greatest experiences anyone could ever go to,” said Leibach. “Everyone was full of joy and love for God. Jesus is always everywhere, yet when you are surrounded by faithful people, it helps yourself and others grow in God and in your faith.”


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