Kristina and Rachel Greiner of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, get into the spirit of trading for fun hats at NCYC 2019. Trading was an event in which groups traded items they had brought, like cheese hats from Wisconsin youth for seashells from teens in New Jersey.
Kristina and Rachel Greiner of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, get into the spirit of trading for fun hats at NCYC 2019. Trading was an event in which groups traded items they had brought, like cheese hats from Wisconsin youth for seashells from teens in New Jersey.

If the disciples on the Road to Emmaus had traveled by bus instead of by foot, their experience might have been similar to that of 30 youth and adult chaperones who traveled from the Diocese of Trenton to Indianapolis for NCYC 2019, held in the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

The more than 20,000 youth who experienced “Blessed, Broken and Given” the weekend of Nov. 21-23, included 18 teens and five adults on a bus from four parishes in the Diocese, and a fifth contingent that traveled by plane. Also on the bus were seven members of the Diocese of Camden.

Like the Emmaus disciples traveling to a village near Jerusalem, youth spent their time traveling to and from NCYC in conversation, talking about things that had happened in their lives and in their faith, and asking questions of each other and of God about the future.

Rachel Greiner, a member of St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, and senior in Toms River East, recalled the experience this way: “There was just this love and warmth and comfort that you feel. It was like I was at home. But it wasn’t because of the people, it was God. He was there the whole time holding our hands as every single person walked with him to be closer to him.  NCYC was the best experience I have ever had in my entire life. I am a changed person, but for the better.”

Others from the Diocese who attended NCYC were from St. Joan of Arc, Marlton; St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford; St. Mary, Colts Neck, and St. Martha, Point Pleasant.

To help participants unpack the weekend’s theme, the Scripture story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) was unfolded during the conference. NCYC participants began and ended their days in the stadium, which was also the location for keynote addresses, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and daily Mass.

The experience of encountering Jesus and growing in relationship with God and others, through the varied speakers, workshops, worship and praise opportunities, and recreation, was embraced by the youth, who shared how it changed their lives.

Camren Stein, also of St. Joseph Parish and a sophomore in Toms River High School South, acknowledged he is looking forward to coming back in 2021 “and doing the whole thing over again.”

“Going early in the morning and late at night to hear the word of God and what he has done for so many people makes me feel so much closer with him,” Stein said. “Having the opportunity to meet new people in the process and hear about their faith was another huge thing that I loved. I did not expect, after the trip was over, how close I got with God.”

For William Hines and his twin brother Mark, members of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, and sophomores in Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft, sharing the experience with so many like-minded youth left an indelible impression. Said William, “NCYC is an amazing experience because it is both very personal when you go to Adoration and Reconciliation, but it also puts the Church into perspective when you gather with over 20,000 of your peers to sing together and celebrate Mass.”

Mark added, “I think that NCYC is a great place for high school students to encounter Christ and the Church in many ways that are different and unique. Also, the amount of people that you meet through trading, and the convention center is just amazing, as well as the many things to do like service or altar serving.”

Trading is a tradition of NCYC where parish groups bring items unique to them to trade, such as T-shirts, jewelry, seashells, or funny hats, as an opportunity to get to know others and build relationships.

Catherine Rowe, a member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, and a Brick Memorial High School student, described NCYC as “life changing. I went two years ago; however this year was fantastic. Being with 20,000 teenagers who also want to know the Lord as much as you do is so comforting.”

Rowe acknowledged that before NCYC she “generally felt scared to share my faith as boldly as I’d like to, but after this pilgrimage, I am ready to share the Good News to anyone who will listen.”

Rowe, who shared that Confession and Adoration were her favorite experiences at NCYC, also recounted a particularly moving experience. “Going into Confession, I was nervous to share what was on my heart, but once the priest said my sins were forgiven, a weight was taken off my shoulders and I felt brand new.” 

She recalled that as she knelt back down in her place for Adoration, “not only did thousands of teens run to Confession, they stormed the foot of the stage to be closer to the Lord. I grabbed my friend Bridget’s hand and flew down the steps to kneel next to them on the stadium floor. The Holy Spirt was so alive in that moment, and I truly saw Jesus.”

Catherine Werner, St. Joseph Parish youth ministry coordinator, noted that one of the highlights of the conference was the video message from Pope Francis to the youth. “To know that the Holy Father was thinking of us and wanted to speak to the NCYC participants was incredible. It was very inspiring to hear how he cares for the young Church.”

In his message, Pope Francis encouraged young people to "Go and fill your surroundings, even the digital ones, not with convictions, not to convince, not to proselytize, but to bear witness to the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.”

Reflecting on the Pope’s message and the mission of NCYC, Werner said, “One of the best things about NCYC is that it shows our teens they are not alone in their faith. They are continually encouraged to proudly live out their Catholic faith and make Christ the center of their lives, especially through the sacraments, Adoration and diving into Scripture. My teens are excited to take this experience back to the rest of our CYGNUS youth group family and share what they learned with them.”