By Father John Donovan/ SUN contributing writer
Growing up, the Susquehanna River was parallel to my street and perpendicular to the dead end of Shelby Street. Directly across the river was the sewage treatment plant. Although I was not allowed to go pass the last white house on the right, the curiosity and mischievousness of boys may on an occasion or two challenged that parameter. There was an incident with a “potato gun” that did show us some household items should not be combined with the sludge output from across the way. The river was lively that day, but not life giving.
The count was 23, 000 teenagers, who responded enthusiastically and loudly to the mantra’s: “NC … YC!” and “God is good … all the time; All the time … God is good!” The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) was held at Reliant Park in Houston, Texas, November 13-16. The theme was the River of Life, with daily themes of renewal, forgiveness, evangelization and Christian unity. The symbol of water as purifying, life giving and a tributary were highlighted with a flowing stream across the field of the stadium. Music, music and more music, accompanied prayer, catechesis and just plain fun.
The contingent from the Diocese of Syracuse was 168 people strong with chaperones. I participated simply to plant the seed of possibilities for ministerial vocation to consecrated life and priesthood. A large group of teenagers from our diocese was the perfect field as the environment would be hospitable and the turf rich for that seed to flourish. In my wildest imagination I could not have underestimated that notion more!
The stories of speakers, adult, teens and even twenty-something pop icon Matt Smith (from MTV’s Real World) overwhelmed the young and old alike. The most heavily attended break-out session was the television personality’s as he discussed his embracing virginity and chastity and it had to turn people away as 11,000 was the room’s capacity. Craig Kielburger, who since the age of twelve has fought for children’s rights and the end of sweatshop labor, spoke passionately to the 23,000. The twenty-year old Canadian is the founder of (Kids Can) Free the Children. This then led us to ten teens speaking of their work locally and globally as volunteers, social justice advocates and most importantly as Christians who live the Gospel.
To pose the question to our young people to consider vocations to consecrated life and priesthood was met with respect, receptiveness and enthusiasm. In the course of the conference, they saw their lives of faith enriched by the meeting of people from all over the country who share and live their Gospel values. They saw how they could celebrate and have fun and still be nurtured, inspired and committed to their Church.
The River of Life set ablaze the desire to serve in many of our teens. The faith of our youth is lively and life giving. Their commitment is sincere. Their curiosity and even at times mischievousness test the parameters of what their peers may even expect. The seed has been planted and they are aware of their responsibility to water and feed it, for themselves and with each other. The River of Life in Houston was unlike the Susquehanna in my childhood, it was lively but also and definitely life giving! “God is good … all the time; All the time … God is good!”