By David J. Suarez

Special to the Herald

National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) is where more than 10,000 Catholic youth and chaperones gather to pray, learn and grow in their faith together, which is held in Indianapolis, Indiana. This organization is sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, Inc. (NFCYM), and the pilgrimage had taken place from Nov. 18-20, 2021.

They traveled from all over the country, excited to be part of this life changing event, which is an experience of a lifetime.

This year NCYC 2021 was significantly on a much smaller scale due to all the COVID-19 protocols. The three blessed days that NCYC gives these hopeful teens is packed with so much inspiration that lets them explore and become more mindful in their Catholic faith. Additionally, the learning experience comes from the evening ceremonies in the stadium, music, keynote speakers and workshops.

Aside from all this fun, it takes hard work and dedication to be apart of NCYC.

Saint Christophers Catholic Church in Galt has had many youth throughout the years take part in this pilgrimage, alongside chaperones, and their Youth Ministry Coordinator Eva Delgado.

The journey to Indiana, takes a two-year commitment of being involved in the parish, and participating in fundraisers. This year’s theme was ABLAZE (Enciende el Fuego) based on the second Chapter of the Book of Acts, this tell’s us about the coming of the Holy Spirit.

This year’s youth participants who joined in this pilgrimage were Emilio Estrada, Veronica Estrada, James Garcia, Juanita Pamplona-Barron and David Suarez. Each of us participate at our parish as altar servers, take part in the youth group, and volunteer our time for fundraising.

At the opening ceremonies, emcees for the weekend Sister Miriam Heidland and Brian Greenfield were introduced with music from feature artist Lecrae. During this time, we were introduced to the “The Promise”, which follows the ancient Pentecost vigil, in which Christians gathered to hear readings from the Old Testament that spoke of the need for the Holy Spirit and the promise that God will send the Holy Spirit to dwell with us.

Both welcomed the thousands of teens to NCYC and shared many of their experiences which made the large audience feel more connected to them.

Sitting there in Lucas Oil Stadium, you never know what to expect. Our music performer Lecrae motivated us, speaking and singing to us “Being broke made me rich!” – this reflects him being broke and alone and turning to understand his faith in God.

Our emcees reminded us to open our hearts and to encounter the Holy Spirit. This was the message for us to grow close to our faith and have an open relationship with God.

The motivational speakers were very inspiring by sharing how they discovered God and emphasized on building a relationship with Him. Even adding a bit of humor and even magic at times.

Also, in the workshops they focused each day on something different.

During our first session we focused on “Trusting in a God We Cannot See”. Speaker Steve Angrisano said to know our faith is empowering and reflecting that Jesus is real. We then went to our next session “Called to Courgeous Community” with TJ O’Neil, Mary Carmen Zakrajsek, Paula Anagarita Rivera and Adam Setmeyer. The speakers helped us to focus on the seven pillars of ministry: hospitable, invitational, prayerful, sacramental, inspirational formational, missionful; and to use our gifts and turn them into actions for our community needs.

Our most significant participation during pilgrimage was leading a “Spirited Conservation” session. This was the first time Saint Christopher Parish lead a session at NCYC.

During this time, Saint Christopher Parish youth became leaders and led a small group discussion with other teens from around the country.

In these conversations we asked 10 questions about our lives, and we learned how we may be different but we are similar at heart.

We interacted on a more one on one basis with the teens, giving us exceptionally more personal time to reflect how we relate with God.

There was also Mark Hart, who had reminded us that God will never leave us, as he remains with us.

The keynote speaker was Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller. He spoke to us about the first evangelist, Mary, mother of Jesus, the first to believe the good news about her son – the church was about to grow. We need to look up to him and lay down our prayers and questions to him because he will always love us and listen. All speakers were very influential.

Going into this with an open mind was crucial, we needed to prepare for opening our heart to Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. For, everything we learned throughout this conference brought all of us not only closer to God, but more so that we could understand him. Knowing that someone is listening all day, every day; through struggles through everyday life, knowing He is here and He is never going to leave your side. It is very important that he knows you as you. You have to be the best version of yourself,  even if no one can see it, God can see the real you.

It is so amazing to see how many people supported, loved and cherished every moment of the conference. People singing, interacting, you could truly see so many smiles when walking in and out of the stadium. We never forgot the bond we developed during our trip to NCYC.

Having open conversations and reflections during evenings made us closer to learning God is always with us. They all brought so much kindness into just talking, saying hello, meeting them and taking pictures.

It was such an amazing experience to be able to hold in our hearts forever.

The highlights of NCYC were leading a session, Adoration, celebrating Mass, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist and Communion is where God is truly present. The celebration of the Eucharist is what sets the Catholic Church apart from other Christian denominations.

Utilmately, NCYC 2021 was an amazing experience, personal and motivated us to widen our faith and open our hearts to our community.

Participating in social services projects was not only fun but with a purpose. We made rosary bracelets, customized lunch bags, and decorated Christmas cards.

For those that are able to participate in our youth group, please do, it will bring you closer to your faith. Saint Christopher Parish is looking forward to participating in NCYC 2022 Walking on Water (Caminando Sobre el Agua) to be held in Long Beach, California.

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us get to this blessed pilgrimage: Rev. Miguel Silva, our parish, the donations, our families, and chaperone Marisela Suarez. We are thankful for our Youth Ministry Coordinator Eva Delgado, who is dedicated to developing our Catholic faith and guiding us through our teenage years. She has done so much for us, and we are always grateful. Lastly, we would like to thank each other, the youth participants. Without NCYC we would not have been able to spend more time with one another or gotten closer as a family. We have made many memories, that we are sure not to forget. This journey with each other was phenomenal and empowering to inspire the future of the Catholic church.

Overall highlights from participants:

“As the youth minister, it brings so much happiness to see the young Church come together to celebrate receiving the Blessed Sacrament at Mass with over 10,000 Catholic teenagers in Indianapolis,” Eva Delgado said.

“One thing I’ll never forget is when I felt the presence of God,” Emilio Estrada said. “That was an opportunity most people don’t get, I am grateful that I was able to have it.”

“NCYC was my way of coming closer to God,” Veronica Estrada. “During NCYC, there were many chances to meet new people with the same beliefs as me.”

“Chasing happiness can make you further away from God,” James Garcia said. “Even though you start with a little item, at the end it could be very valuable. Anybody could be Jesus in disguise.”

“My time at NCYC impacted my life by opening doors to things I didn’t know could be options,” Juanita Pamplona-Barron. “I spent lots of time in prayer and listening to the word of the Lord and felt a calling to becoming a missionary.”

“In order to reach happiness and brightness, sometimes you have to go through darkness but never stop believing in God,” David Suarez said. “By connecting with others, you get a sense who God truly is.”

David J. Suarez is a senior at Liberty Ranch High School.