Waking up in the wee morning hours to catch an early flight to Kansas City, Mo., might not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but for youth in the Camden Diocese, it was important for them to show others that “Christ Reigns.”
Some 60 youth group leaders, members, and chaperones joined almost 25,000 other teens and adult chaperones in Kansas City for the National Catholic Youth Conference, held Nov. 19-21.
Co-hosted by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, the theme this year was “Christ Reigns.”
Keynote speakers, musical artists, and teen-oriented workshops on topics such as social justice, chastity, the Bible, spirituality and social networking were held, and participants could also spend time at a 200,000-square foot interactive venue called the Reign Forest, with more than 150 exhibits.
Daily Mass, reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration, prayers of the rosary and oppertunities for meditation were also offered for the youth that came from all over the United States and Puerto Rico.
Just how well-behaved can thousands of teenagers be? Consider opening night, when nearly 20,000 of them, not knowing there was another entrance on the other side of the 20,000-seat Sprint Center, massed early at one entrance and waited for two hours for the doors to open and to undergo security checks of backpacks and purses.
The jam-up could have seemed interminable, but the youths started the conference a bit early outside the arena. They began meeting each other, partying and making new friends with other teens from other parts of the country.
The three days were “completely awesome and inspiring,” noted Kari Janisse, youth director of Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown, which sent 10 youth and chaperones to the conference.
For Janisse, one of the most moving experiences was seeing the 25,000 faithful packed into the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City for adoration.
“I’m so used to adoration in a small chapel. To be in a large stadium with Jesus present … it moved me to tears.”
Another highlight for her and her group, was the chastity talk presented by couple Jason and Crystalina Evert, called “Romance Without Regret” that speaks of a chaste lifestyle filled with freedom, peace and respect.
Concerning the youth she led, Janisse said they were “very fired up” during the three days.
One of these was 17 year-old Courtney McHale, who had gone to the last youth conference two years ago, in Columbus, Ohio. Calling herself “blessed” to return, Courtney was inspired by all the youth like her who were proclaiming the faith, and she vowed to return to New Jersey and spread the message of the importance of a relationship with Christ.
“We are called to be lights to the world,” she said.
“It was a chance to see God,” remarked Karrie Davis, youth leader for Mary, Queen of All Saints Parish in Pennsauken. She and 12 other chaperones, young adults, and youth also made the pilgrimage. After Kansas City, and persuaded by a conference discussion, the youth group decided to sponsor a needy girl from the Philippines, writing letters and donating money every month, to make sure she gets food and other supplies she needs.
In his homily to all gathered at the conference, Sacramento, Calif., Bishop Jaime Soto spoke of the countless text messaging, facebooking, and twittering teens perform daily as a way to communicate with friends. As well, Jesus desires a relationship with every person, he said.
“He wants to text the truth of God’s mercy on your soul. Jesus is the Word, the ultimate Facebook of God…. Jesus does not twitter. Rather he humbled himself so that he could meet you, connect with you… He is the IP address of the way, the truth and the life.”
Bishop Soto also spoke of the misuse of the word “freedom” in today’s society, saying that “both truth and relationship are corrupted when the culture disconnects them to serve a distorted sense of freedom.
“Life has become a multiple choice question for which there are no wrong answers and the only criteria for choosing are one’s own impressions, preferences, desires, and fears… (which) become the self created avatars to which one clings while we are all adrift in a sea of mass information that threatens us, confuses us, and challenges us.”
Calling for the restoration of “a climate of freedom and an environment of hope,” Bishop Soto noted that we only need to look at the cross, to understand how much Jesus desires us.
“The cross is both the medium and the message that Jesus sends us. When we respond to that call… we begin a dialogue that will connect you to the truth that will set you free.”
Contributing to this story was Catholic News Service.