Youth urged to remember they're 'beloved children of God, called by name'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Natalie Hoefer, The Criterion

By Natalie Hoefer

sound of more than 20,000 teens screaming and singing along with racuous music
of Christian hip-hop band TobyMac was loud.

The sound of the same
number of youths in silent prayer was deafening.

These external and
internal forms of praise formed bookends to the opening general session of the
National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 16 at Lucas Oil Stadium in

After two hours of music,
entertainment — including cultural dancing by the Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth
Movement — and an entrance procession of banners from each diocese present,
the participants were greeted by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

Although each person came
“from many dioceses, many states ‘ and with many titles,” he said, “we are
first and foremost children of God. And that God who knows us desires to be
known by us. ‘ God wanted us to know him … through a personal relationship
with a human being, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“We are beloved children
of God, called by name, claimed by Christ,” he continued, referring to the
conference theme of “Called.” “We begin this NCYC weekend by embracing that
reality of who we are.”

Chris Stefanick, an
internationally acclaimed author, speaker and founder of Real Life Catholic,
used humor and life experience to speak about the reality of who we are and of
God’s love for each person.

He spoke of the “love
story” upon which the Catholic faith is founded.

“When you remove the love
story, what are you left with?” he asked. “Rules that we have to follow.
Rituals that we’re not sure why we keep them alive but they take a lot of time.
Doctrines that have nothing to do with your life. That’s how the world has come
to see Catholicism. ‘ The world has forgotten the love story, and so often
we’ve forgotten the love story.”

That story, he said,
“begins very simply with the words ‘(I) believe in one God.'”

So many youths today
chose not to believe, he said, including an atheist who once told him that
belief that God created the universe “is as stupid as a kid coming down on
Christmas morning and, seeing presents under the tree, thinks, ‘There are
presents, therefore there must be a Santa..'”

“You say there’s no God?”
Stefanick asked. “That’s like a flea not believing in the dog. That’s like a
kid coming down on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree and
saying, ‘Oh look! Presents! They must have exploded themselves here!’ ‘ Just
so, the universe did not put itself here, and the more we learn about the
universe, the more it shouts to us about the existence of God.”

And because God’s love
created us, he said, no other form of love will satisfy.

“We feel so small in this
world,” he told the crowd that came from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. “We
feel so insignificant in this universe.

“I think God looks down
from heaven and says, ‘You are huge next to all this.’ As big as a mountain is,
can it know someone? As big as an ocean is, can it make a choice? As big as a
galaxy is, can it choose to love? No, but you can. … You’re a huge deal!”

But because of human
rejection of God, Stefanick continued, sin and brokenness entered the world. To
applause and shouts of “Amen!” he modified the words of John 3:16 to note that
therefore, “‘God so loved you that he gave his only Son.’ Whoa. ‘”

This love story — which
continues in the sacraments, Stefanick noted –“doesn’t just show you who God
is. It shows you who you are.”

” ‘Who am I?’ ‘I’m precious.’ ‘What am I
worth?’ ‘I’m worth dying for,’ ” he said in a solo dialogue. “‘ Sin is not your
name-Jesus gives you your name. And what is your name? ‘Beloved.’ I don’t
matter because of who I am-I matter because of whose I am. I’m not somebody,
I’m somebody’s. I’m precious and I’m worth dying for. This is the best news

He encouraged the crowd
to use their will to “say ‘yes’ to the love that created space and time and
perpetually invites us to himself.”

Father Joseph Espaillat,
a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, who was one of the evening’s emcees,
led the more than 20,000 present through a period of silent prayer to close. He
suggested using the word “pray” as an acronym to guide their prayer — “P” for
praising God, “R” for repenting of sins, “A” for asking God for needs rather
than wants, and “Y” for yielding to his will

It was this prayer time
more than any of the evening’s other events that most affected Abby White of
the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky.

“I thought it was really
powerful,” she said of the quiet time. “I like saying that you’re sorry to God.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been to confession, and I really want to go to
confession this weekend. I felt like that [prayer time] empowered me to want to

While Abby has attended
NCYC before, Garrett Randel of Seneca, Kansas, was exuberant with the joy of
one experiencing the event for the first time.

“I thought it was really
cool,” he said of the opening session. “The speaker was really inspiring. I
thought it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my Catholic faith.”

Caitlin Dusenbury of the
Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, couldn’t agree more. The NCYC first-timer’s eyes
lit up and a smile brightened her face when she spoke of her experience that

“I really like it so
far,” she told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “It’s
impacted me a lot. I’ve never seen so many Catholics together.

“The highlight for me was Chris
speaking. ‘It’s not who you are, but whose you are’ — that quote stuck with

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Hoefer is a reporter at The
Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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