|A group of teens from the Diocese of Nashville poses for a photo at the National Catholic Youth Conference, held Nov. 19-21 in Indianapolis. Groups from six parishes in the diocese joined together with 23,000 other teens from across the country for the bi-annual conference.
INDIANAPOLIS. As 23,000 youths from across the country gathered for the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis Nov. 19-21, a group of 105 teens and chaperones from the Diocese of Nashville were right in the thick of things, wearing their easily identifiable cowboy hats.
One of those teens was 14-year-old Avonlea Benefield, who traveled with her mother Samantha and other teens from Sacred Heart Church in Lawrenceburg to attend the conference. “It was pretty amazing, being around that many teens, worshipping God, all believing the same thing,” she said.
Samantha Benefield, a mother of seven who has chaperoned teens from Sacred Heart to every National Catholic Youth Conference since 2005, said that making the trip is so important to connecting the rural teens with the global church. “A lot of them will never leave Lawrence County,” she said. “This gets them really energized to see how many people just like them are out there.”
Attending the National Catholic Youth Conference is especially important to those in rural parishes, and those outside of Nashville, according to Bill Staley, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Nashville. “Going to the conference, they see that we’re not just a remote little church, we’re the Roman Catholic church, worldwide.”
In addition to Sacred Heart, parish groups from St. Gregory in Smithville, St. Frances Cabrini in Lebanon, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Philip in Franklin and Holy Family in Brentwood attended the NCYC.
Sacred Heart rallied around the teens and donated more than $3,600 during their final fundraising push, Benefield said. “We’re a rural parish, and we’re not a wealthy parish,” she said, but, “our church saw the importance of these kids going. … It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to see the global church.”
During the conference, the teens had free range of the Lucas Oil Stadium, and could attend talks, shop at Catholic vendors, hear live music, and attend adoration and confession. “It was like a Catholic oasis for teens,” Staley said.
The weekend was capped off with a Feast of Christ the King Mass celebrated by Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, who was the principal celebrant.
During his opening remarks at the Mass, Cardinal Rodriguez shared with his young listeners the mission they were being given as they returned to their homes. “This is not the end,” he said. “This is the beginning of another stage when you will go back to your places in order to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ.”
Cardinal Rodriguez, who is a close adviser of Pope Francis, exhorted his “young brothers and sisters” “to spread out his reign of love, with all the values of the kingdom.”
The kingdom of Christ, he said, is “the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the leaven of the dough, a sign of salvation in order to build a more just world, more brotherly, one based on Gospel values, the hope and eternal joy to which we are all called.”
The Feast of Christ the King also leads the Catholic Church to consider its ultimate fulfillment at the end of time, and the relevance of that future event to the world here and now, he said.
“Today’s feast is like experiencing an anticipation of the second coming of Christ in power and majesty, the glorious coming which will fill the hearts and will dry forever the tears of unhappiness,” Cardinal Rodriguez said. “And, at the same time, it is an encouragement to make real this experience of the second coming by our good works, because the hope of a new earth should not scare us.
“Rather, it should strengthen our commitment to cultivate the earth, where that body of a new human family grows and can give us an advance taste of the new world.”
In addition to the 23,000 youths participating in the Mass, approximately 250 priests and 18 bishops concelebrated. About 50 deacons and 50 seminarians also participated.
The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has hosted the last three conferences, which are held every two years. It is scheduled to host the next one in 2017. The conference is sponsored by the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry.
Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin expressed his pride in the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana for working hard to host the youth conference. “Young people face particular challenges today,” he said. “In the heart, we know what it means to be young. And we can serve them. I’m so pleased that so many people in the archdiocese believe in the young people.”
After a weekend of showing teens from the Diocese of Nashville “the big picture” of the Catholic church, Staley said that they are now being “sent forth” to spread the Gospel message, on fire with the faith.
Sean Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Theresa Laurence is a staff writer for the