NC! YC! NC! YC! This would be the chant of over 20,000 Catholic young people from around the country that descended on Indianapolis for the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC). The young Church in the United States was very much alive despite the damp chill of the Midwest.
In the thick of the largest three day youth gathering was the Salesian Family of Don Bosco from all four provinces of the FMA and SDB of USA-Canada. The theme this year was “Blessed. Broken. Given.” Centering on the scripture passage of the road to Emmaus, the Salesian family walked alongside these young people from 145 dioceses and their youth ministers.
The collaboration of the four provinces over the past year was spent looking for innovative ways to engage and evangelize the young people and bring them closer to God in the style of Don Bosco. This year our presence was in two distinct venues: the Reconciliation area of Sacred Space and a resource booth at the Global Village, a multi-activity area of the exhibition hall.
In the Reconciliation area, we took on the journey aspect of the conference theme and created a Salesian Examen to guide the participants in reflecting on how they could improve on living their lives with greater significance and meaning. The Examen began with an invitation to walk with Christ in preparation to receive his mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Five stations along the journey then followed inviting the participants to look at their lives based on our Salesian youth spirituality: encountering God in daily life, celebrating joy and optimism, our friendship with our Lord Jesus, being in communion with the Church, and sent as missionary disciples in service of the world. Each station marker invited the participants to pause and reflect with a number of personal questions. Members of our province group accompanied the participants along the way leading up to personal confession. 75 confession stations were busy throughout the conference. Our own Fr. John Roche must have heard a few hundred confessions! The power of God’s mercy was imparted on thousands of young people these days.
At the “Global Village,” the second venue of our Salesian presence, was a resource exhibit booth. Here we were able to interact with the young people and share with them our charism, mission, and spirituality. Aside from the regular t-shirt and sticker, we offered to the young a concrete way of living out youthful holiness as exemplified by our young Salesian saints and blesseds. We challenged them to heed and live out the words of our Holy Father Pope Francis that he gave at the opening of NCYC to “go and fill your surroundings, even the digital ones… not to convince others; not to proselytize, but to bear witness of the tenderness and mercy of Jesus.”
Youth ministers and young people alike, looked forward to our Salesian booth to see what new things we have on offer, but more importantly to come and discover how we might share our faith in creative ways. Many come not knowing or heard about the Salesians, but many come knowing the great saint that is our founder, Don Bosco. Many youth groups have taken Don Bosco as their patron, while others have an affinity to his Preventive System.
Every so often we encounter past pupils of the Salesians, both FMA and SDB, mostly from other countries. This year at NCYC we were blessed to have Ivan Diaz, an alumnus from our school in Bogota, Colombia stop by our booth. Ivan is a music composer. Ivan will be publishing the first official bilingual mass setting in honor of St. John Bosco through Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), which will soon debut at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California. It’s these encounters like the one with Ivan, that remind us of our wider Salesian family and the impact Don Bosco has made in the lives of so many.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts have been on fire because we have encountered the Lord, not only in the Blessed Sacrament present throughout the conference, but in the young Church who witnessed to us their fervent faith and desire to reflect God’s love to the world. We pray that their fire and ours will continue to be ignited.
The Salesian team that assembled after months of planning and preparing need to be thanked for their hard work! From FMA West: Sr. Jeanette Palasota and Sr. Sydney Moss. From FMA East: Sr. Guerline Joseph and Sr. Theresa Lee. From SDB East: Mr. Guilherme Lopes, Miss Victoria Weekly, and Miss Amy Marinaro. From SDB West: Mrs Gina Robles, Fr. John Roche, Bro. Al Vu, and myself— Andres Neria.
We now rest until the next NCYC which will take place again in Indianapolis on November 18-21, 2021!