Youth minister Mike Sylvester of St. Gregory the Great Parish in Bluffton, S.C., is seen Nov. 18, 2021, with some of the 23 youths he was leading at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/John Shaughnessy, The Criterion)

John Shaughnessy
Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS — Angela Guynn always marvels at the transformation that youths experience during the three days of the National Catholic Youth Conference.

“What they believe they’re going to get out of it is different than what they will get out of it,” said Guynn, a youth group leader at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis who once again helped chaperone teenagers at this year’s Nov. 18-20 conference in Indianapolis.

“Just that there are kids the same age who believe it’s OK to show their love of God, to share what they believe without being judged, that there are others who have questions about their faith, and others they can lean on,” she added.

Guynn smiled as she recalled the experience of one youth from her predominantly African American parish, a youth whose only initial reason for coming to NCYC was because his mother had signed him up to attend.

“The energy from that first night is eye-opening, from the music to the kids storming the stage,” she said. “For him it was, ‘I love this! I can’t wait to do this again!'”

That energy — and that reaction from the youths — fuels Guynn’s commitment to bring more teenagers to the conference, which takes place every two years. And seeing NCYC’s impact on their faith also deepens her faith.

“With everything that’s been changing in the world, just helping the youths along in their journey helps me in continuing my faith,” she told The Criterion, Indianapolis’ archdiocesan newspaper. “It feels good to help others grow in their faith.”

That feeling is prevalent among adult group leaders and chaperones who embrace NCYC as a faith-affirming experience for their youths and themselves.

Mike Sylvester led 23 youths to the conference from St. Gregory the Great Parish in Bluffton, South Carolina.

“Coming from South Carolina, where the population is 5% or so Catholic, for our young people to see the larger church and to be in a stadium worshipping God with so many people from across the country, it’s amazing the impact it has on them,” said Sylvester, the youth minister of the parish.

“I’ve lost count of the number of conferences I’ve been to, but I’ve seen the way they take it in, the way they own their faith. I’m fed here, too,” he said. “The faith, the joy and the energy these kids have brings me hope — not just for the future of our church but for today. These kids are our present now. We need to affirm that as a church and celebrate it.”

Kim Sprague and Lucy Herth have the same belief in the youth of the church. They combined to lead 100 youths from four parishes in southern Indiana to NCYC this year: All Saints in Dearborn County, St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Aurora and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in Bright.

“I love witnessing kids experience the larger church,” Sprague said. “They have an authentic joy to be surrounded by peers of the same faith. You witness them just being true to themselves, to making Jesus their friend.”

Herth also appreciates the continuing impact that NCYC has on youths after the three-day event ends.

“Any kid who’s been to NCYC wants to invite others to the next conference,” Herth said. “They have this joy when they see other kids on fire for their faith, and they want to share that joy with others.”

Sprague added, “They’re not afraid to witness, to be more of a leader.”

She has experienced the same impact.

“It breathes new life into my ministry, just in witnessing the kids come alive in their faith,” Sprague said. “To see them open up and let the Holy Spirit work in their lives during the three days at NCYC is a blessing.”

“It makes it more than worthwhile,” she added.

Shaughnessy is assistant editor at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.