November 18, 2017

Local teens see God on the move at National Catholic Youth Conference

Story and photos by Andre Kopacki


Teenagers attending the National Catholic Youth Conference wear hats to show off their home parish creativity. NCYC is taking place in Indianapolis through Sunday, Nov. 19.

INDIANAPOLIS – Any youth group leader knows introducing teenagers to each other and then having them talk about Jesus, can be awkward. But in Indianapolis at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), more than 23,000 teenagers, guided by their chaperones, are breaking the ice, meeting new friends and finding that they do actually have someone in common: Jesus Christ.

Clothespins and hats, of all things, have been helping in the process.

“It’s like a sign that I’m praying for you, and you don’t know who I am,” said Benjamin Kervick, a junior from Pope Francis High School in Chicopee, telling the story of the labeled clothespins in his hands.

Wooden clothespins have become a popular and fun way for youth to reach out to one another. Students fill their pockets with labeled clothespins, often writing the names of their parish or hometown on the flat sides. Stealthily, they attach the clothespins to other random participants as they walk to their activity areas. 

“You want it to be an anonymous deal,” explained Kervick.

This may seem like a trivial game, but many adult team leaders see value in it. The expectation is participants will have a mix of other clothespins by the end of the week, and see the spiritual solidarity they share with NCYC attendees from across the United States. 

Parishes are also getting creative with their hats. Teenagers will be exchanging hats with students from across the country, in another attempt to show the universality of the Catholic Church.

Fifty-two teenagers and chaperones from the Diocese of Springfield are attending the biannual conference held at the Indianapolis Convention Center Nov. 16-19. The schedule includes prayer, community and empowerment with inspiring speakers taking on topics ranging from forgiveness, to global issues to sexuality to Catholic spirituality.

Among the featured artists are Matt Maher, who wrote “Your Grace is Enough” and “Lord I Need You,” and Grammy-winning Christian hip hop artist Toby Mac. Participants have an opportunity to help with service projects, make rosaries, pray the rosary, as well as attend the many break-out sessions led by dynamic Catholic speakers such as John Leonetti and Jason and Crystalina Evert. There is also daily Mass and the opportunity to go to confession.

Among the local parishes participating are St. Francis of Assisi in Belchertown; St. Elizabeth of Hungary in North Adams; St. Elizabeth Parish in Ludlow; and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Springfield.

“Often when we think of the Catholic Church, you think of your parish, or about Rome, but here it all comes together. When you’re getting clothespins from parishes across the country, you understand that everybody is here for the Lord,” said Kervick.