For The Dialog
Young people discover how church ‘relates to your life’ at national conference
Ania Zdunek seems like someone who would recognize God’s presence about her in her everyday life, since she attends a private Catholic high school.
But the Archmere Academy senior from St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Wilmington realized that she did not always see God as part of her everyday life when she attended the National Catholic Youth Conference last week in Indianapolis. “Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge God in everyday life,” she said.
Now, she feels prepared “to put religion back in my life.” The breakthrough came in part through her interactions with some of the 25,000 other young Catholics at the conference.
Ania was among 42 people (25 youth and 17 adults) from the Diocese of Wilmington who attended the conference. They represented five parishes — St. Mary Magdalen and St. Catherine of Siena in Wilmington; Our Lady of Lourdes in Seaford; St. Francis de Sales in Salisbury, Md.; and St. Luke in Ocean City, Md. — and Padua Academy.
Kyle Thompson, associate director of the Office for Catholic Youth and Young Adult Ministry, called NCYC “a great way for the youth to not only mold their faith, through the breakout sessions they attended, but also allowed them to experience the church universal as they worshipped and shared fellowship with 25,000 other youth.”
His goal now is to help the youth put their experiences into action.
“Going forward, we are called to do something with it,” he said, building upon the conference’s theme of “Called.”
Highlights, as identified by some of the participants, were an hour-long eucharistic adoration; Christian music concerts; the speakers and breakout sessions, and simply being among so many other young Catholics.
“It’s really amazing to see all these kids from all over the country with the same passion [for their faith],” said Zdunek, who attended NCYC for the first time. “It gives you a chance to discuss your religion and how it relates to your life.”
Jack Schrieder of St. Francis de Sales, a senior who is homeschooled, enjoyed talking with other young Catholics. “There are many people out there like me, who struggle with the same things and share the same faith.”
He was awed by the quiet that descended upon Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL Indianapolis Colts, as it came time for adoration following a lively concert. “Despite there being 25,000 people in the arena, I did not hear one voice during adoration, which was amazing. The presence of the Eucharist just made people quiet down and pay attention to God.”
Susan Velasquez-Perez, 21, of Our Lady of Lourdes was impressed that “everyone just kneeled in the presence of Jesus, and shared the moment for praying and getting together in eucharistic adoration.” The student at Delaware Tech in Georgetown said it provided time to “turn to Christ and pray to him for whatever we have in our hearts.”
Two aspects of the conference especially struck Gabi McCormick of Our Lady of Lourdes, a freshman at Sussex Academy in Georgetown: The fact that so many young people shared the same faith, and the concerts.
“You didn’t have to be afraid to speak about your beliefs and your religion,” she said.
During the concerts, conference participants were allowed on the stadium floor, very close to the performers.
“I’ve been to a few concerts, but never to a Christian concert, so it was definitely different for me,” McCormick said.
Asked how it was different, she cited “the positivity of everyone around you. I don’t know how to describe it; it was just different, a different atmosphere.” While people seem happy at the secular concerts she has attended, she didn’t think they felt like part of a group, as she did at NCYC.
That sense of being connected by a common faith and beliefs led Zdunek, from St. Mary Magdalen, to wish more young Catholics could attend.
She called the conference “a really inspirational experience. I think all Catholic youth should have an experience like this.”