Diocesan teens among joyful 13,000 at National Catholic Youth Conference

Fifty-six high school students from the Diocese of Peoria pose with Bishop Louis Tylka and chaplains from their schools at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. The Nov. 16-18 gathering drew nearly 13,000 teens to Lucas Oil Stadium. Note the group’s identifying banner at right -- “BLT” with an image of a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. But “BLT” is also the abbreviation, and an occasional nickname, for Bishop Louis Tylka. (Provided photo/Carla Wizieck)

INDIANAPOLIS — The joy that young people bring to the church was on full display when nearly 13,000 high school students filled Lucas Oil Stadium here with it during the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC).

“The joy we all felt after Mass and all throughout the conference is the same joy that we are called to bring to others,” said Clare Vogel, a senior at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington and one of 56 students from four Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Peoria taking part in the Nov. 16-18 event.

Mary Lechtenberg, a senior at Marquette Academy in Ottawa, is already sharing the joy.

Attendees from Central Catholic High School in Bloomington pose with Bishop Tylka inside Lucas Oil Stadium during the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Provided photo/Clare Vogel)

“When my friends ask about my experience, I tell them about they joy and freedom that I felt at the conference,” said Lechtenberg, who attended an NCYC for the second time. “Laughing with my friends over our singing and dancing, I loved bonding through experiences that were centered on Christ. With priests and religious around every corner, the life and spirit of the church was made visible through their joyful presences.”

Among the clergy experiencing — and spreading — the joy at NCYC were Bishop Louis Tylka and the priest chaplains from the four high schools.

“Our kids were enthusiastic,” said Bishop Tylka, who arrived just in time for the conference’s opening session on Thursday evening after spending the earlier part of the week at the fall assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore.

“They enjoyed the speakers, met others from around the country, had the opportunity for reconciliation and Mass . . . and had a lot of fun,” he said. Bishop Tylka had some unexpected fun when he was invited to sit in a dunk tank operated at the conference by the Salesian order. (See related story.)

But what Bishop Tylka will remember is the reverence displayed by the thousands of teens, especially during eucharistic adoration on Friday evening and the closing Mass.

“To experience being in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, adoring and praising God, and moments of 13,000 young people completely silent and reflecting on the fact that God’s love presents us to the Lord in the Eucharist — that’s always powerful,” said Bishop Tylka.


The diocesan attendees who traveled together by bus to Indianapolis came from Peoria Notre Dame (22), Marquette Academy in Ottawa (20), Central Catholic (10), and Schlarman Academy in Danville (4). Among those accompanying them were priest chaplains including Father Daniel McShane of Peoria Notre Dame, Father Nicolas Wilson of Marquette Academy,  Fr. Derick Mwesiga of Central Catholic, and Father John Cyr of Schlarman Academy.

Bishop Tylka celebrates Mass for Diocese of Peoria pilgrims in their hotel during the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. Concelebrating are high school chaplains, from left, Father Nicolas Wilson (Marquette Academy, Ottawa), Father John Cyr (Schlarman Academy, Danville), and Father Daniel McShane (Peoria Notre Dame). Provided photo/Carla Wizieck)

The conference theme of “Fully Alive” was brought home on the opening night by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis — after the teens had settled down from a rousing concert by the Christian rock band for KING + COUNTRY.

Archbishop Thompson quoted his “favorite line” from Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’”: “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

“No one here is a problem to be solved, but is to be contemplated as a joyful mystery with gladness and praise,” the archbishop continued. “Whatever pains in our lives, whatever is going on, whatever hurts, whatever guilt, whatever fears, whatever anxieties, whatever it is — that does not define us.”

Rather, he said, we are defined by our identity in Christ, whose body, blood, soul and divinity is present in the Eucharist.

“We are most fully alive when we live our lives not with ourselves at the center, but keeping Christ at the center,” said Archbishop Thompson.


Bishop Tylka drew upon that wisdom when celebrating Mass with the Diocese of Peoria attendees at their hotel on Saturday afternoon.

“Each of us are unique and we all don’t have to be the same person,” Bishop Tylka told the teens. “We’re all called to be saints, to be holy, but we’re called to be such uniquely as who we are, because we are all not problems to be solved but mysteries to be encountered.”

Encountering new friends from across the nation was a highlight for Richard Kube, a senior at Peoria Notre Dame.

The Diocese of Peoria attendees inside Lucas Oil Stadium at the National Catholic Youth Conference. (Provided photo/Carla Wizieck)

“Many of the people I met during the trip were in similar situations to the ones that I have been going through,” said Kube, “and it was nice to talk to them about how we are getting through life and finding God through those situations.”

It was also nice to laugh with them, said Marquette’s Lechtenberg.

“One of my favorite moments of the trip was playing card games in the hotel with students from Peoria Notre Dame after one of the general night sessions,” she told The Catholic Post. “It was really cool to connect with other kids from our diocese!”

Kube added he will tell his friends to go to future NCYC gatherings and, if they cannot, “I would encourage them to find time to find God in their lives and thank him for all of the things they have, because that was a big part of the retreat for me.”

Central Catholic’s Vogel said she would tell others “how impactful it was to see so many other Catholics, especially Catholics your own age, on the journey to sainthood.”

“You could clearly see how the Spirit moves at NCYC,” she told The Catholic Post.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this story were supplied by OSV News accounts.




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