Some 330 young people from the Archdiocese of Baltimore participated in the National Catholic Youth Conference in Columbus, Ohio, from Nov. 8-10.
The National Catholic Youth Conference is a three-day experience of prayer, community and empowerment for Catholic teenagers that draws more than 20,000 youths. Sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry and held in different cities each year, it offers speakers, workshops, music, liturgy, reconciliation and a theme park with recreational and educational activities.
“It was amazing to see so many Catholic teenagers in one area,” said Katie O’Hara, 16, a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales, Abingdon. She was particularly impressed with the ending liturgy. “I really liked the Mass – when you heard the responses it was like a booming voice, and it was just amazing.”
She was so invigorated that she plans to return to her parish and focus on “making a difference one person at a time.”
Tyler Holl, 16, from the Church of the Resurrection, Ellicott City, said being among 20,000 Catholics made him realize “how universal the church was, and that was really powerful for me.” He said he tends to think of the church just in terms of his parish and his school, Loyola Blakefield, Towson.
He was inspired by a talk about the Eucharist. “We really are worthy to receive Christ, even though I don’t usually feel like that. I usually feel guilty about doing something wrong – I’m hard on myself. This pilgrimage helped me see the joy in being Catholic, the joy in the Eucharist.”
Tyler also liked one speaker, who was paralyzed and talked about miracles. “She helped me to realize you can find miracles every day in the tiniest things. You always think of God in the big things like parting the Red Sea; in the tiny things is where we can find God.”
Alicia Cutherbertson, 15, from St. Peter, Westernport, said she really enjoyed the music, especially when everyone was singing. “I knew there would be a lot of kids there, but when I got there it was amazing,” she said. She also liked the fact that the weekend “was all at our level.”
One tragedy occurred at the start of the event, when early the morning of Nov. 8, participant Veronica Gantt, 16, from Nevada, was struck and killed by a pickup truck. Hungry from a late flight, she was with a group of people including a chaperone that were walking to a McDonald’s to get something to eat.
Katie Kingsbury, 17, from St. Louis, Clarksville, said the participants said prayers for Ms. Gantt every morning, and people at the convention center were praying for her throughout the event.
Katie was impressed by the strength she found from being surrounded by so many people “who believe like you do and have the morals you do. You can change the world.” She can’t wait to share what she learned. “I just want to tell people it’s OK to be religious – and it’s fun,” she said.
Her friend Lauren Kolodrubetz, 17, also from St. Louis, said that “seeing everyone in the whole place just standing up and praising God – that was such an empowering experience.”
The speakers made her realize how important it was to give her life to Jesus and she’ll share that, even with friends who aren’t religious.
“I was just so impressed by the spirit of everyone there,” Lauren said. “I’ve never seen so much love and compassion in people. Everyone was so kind – it was just amazing.”
The speakers were a highlight for Andrew Lewis, from St. Joseph, Odenton, who said he was particularly moved by the focus on love and forgiveness. “It’s a hard thing for me, but I’ve seen that it can happen and I’m going to bring that home with me,” the 17-year-old said. He particularly liked the workshop “Beautiful Disaster,” which detailed how God works through even the most awkward people.
The concluding Mass moved Dominick Smith, 16, from Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Essex, a recent convert to Catholicism.
“It’s unexplainable how great the Mass was last night with 20,000 teenagers from all over the United States – it was crazy,” he said. “The Mass was the best part. I guess they have to save the best for last.”