Father John Hall, pastor of St. Anne Parish in New Castle, Ind., and St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City, blesses a young woman during confession Nov. 22, 2019, during the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis. (CNS photo/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)
By Sean Gallagher Catholic News Service
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — The National Catholic Youth Conference drew 20,000 youths from across the country to Indianapolis to be inspired by a wide variety of speakers, energized by lively, faith-filled music and to share in fun fellowship with Catholic peers.
All of this often happened in the conference’s large and loud general sessions in Lucas Oil Stadium where all conference participants gathered several times Nov. 21-23. But some of the NCYC’s most moving moments were more intimate — moments shared among youths, priests and God in the sacrament of penance.
A large room in the Indiana Convention Center was dedicated to the sacrament with chairs where youths could sit facing a priest or have a screen separating them. For 15 hours during the conference, hundreds of priests were able to share God’s mercy with a steady stream of NCYC participants who stood in line for the sacrament.
This also happened during the Nov. 22 evening general session where priests heard confessions in the arena’s concourses and on its floor and youths stood in long lines for the sacrament.
Father Timothy Wyciskalla, administrator of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, said the sacrament of penance “is one of the greatest things they offer at NCYC.”
“This is one of the highlights of the whole thing,” he told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “You normally don’t see this. Thousands of kids and hundreds of priests all doing that together.
“It’s quiet and they experience the sacrament of confession, some of them for the first time in a very long time. It’s an intimate, private moment with them and God,” he added.
For Allie Hale, a 17-year-old from Westphalia, Missouri, the experience was moving.
“It had been a while,” she said as she walked out of the confession room, her voice filled with emotion. “It always makes me so happy. It’s a feeling I don’t get anywhere else. It’s so powerful. Every time I’ve gone, even when I was little, I just remember that feeling — and I wanted that back.”
Celebrating the sacrament was also moving for the priests who sat for hours in the confession room.
“It’s one of the main reasons I come,” said Father Jeremy Thies, a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who has attended the biennial conference three times.
“It fills me with joy in my priesthood,” he said. “I’ve seen so many kids come that maybe haven’t gone to confession in a while, or just really want to unload some powerful and painful woundedness and sinfulness.
“It fills me with hope, because these are young people who have personal encounters with Christ. That’s what it’s all about — a personal encounter with Christ.”
Several volunteers, including many archdiocesan seminarians, assisted in the room, directing young people to available priests.
“I can’t imagine how the Lord feels to have so many people coming so much closer to him in this sacrament,” said Benjamin Popson, a senior at Bishop Simon Brute College Seminary in Indianapolis.
“I would imagine that it would be overwhelming for a priest in a good way, hearing so many confessions in a day. Confession is one of the more tender aspects of the priesthood.”
Popson also appreciated seeing the sheer numbers of priests in the confession room.
“There were so many different priests, from across the country, from across cultures, wearing anything from jeans to a cassock and surplice,” he said. “But each priest is a tender model of Christ.”