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Bishop tells 12,000 youth at NCYC: Jesus ‘left us the best party’ — the Eucharist

A participant prays during the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Nov 18, 2023. (OSV News photo/Mike Krokos, The Criterion)

INDIANAPOLIS (OSV News) — The joyful shouts of 12,000 Catholic teens from across the country echoed loudly during the two-hour closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 18 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph A. Espaillat of New York described the scene well during his homily in which he often led a loud call-and-response dialogue with the youths.

“Jesus, my sisters and my brothers, left us the best party! He left us the Eucharist,” Bishop Espaillat shouted. “This is the party par excellence, man! You’ve got a front seat, buddy! This is good news!”

The congregation responded immediately with a deafening, “Amen!”

“Did you hear that? I think that was louder than a Colts game,” said Bishop Espaillat from the floor of the stadium where the city’s NFL team plays its home games.

Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens of Crookston, Minnesota, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. He was joined by 17 concelebrating bishops, including Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson and more than a hundred concelebrating priests.

While Bishop Espaillat had many moments of fun and laughter during his homily, he also gave important messages to his listeners to take with them as they returned to their homes across the country.

The first was that they were called to put “joy over fear.”

In explaining this, Bishop Espaillat distinguished between a “worldly fear that creates panic and anxiety” and “a holy fear, or fear of the Lord, (that) is a source of peace and happiness.”

“If we love God and know that we are loved by God, then why do we need to fear?” he asked his listeners.

Bishop Espaillat then laid out three simple points he wanted the young people at NCYC to take home with them.

“You’ve got to have faith,” he said. “You’ve got to have fun while you do it. And you need family and friends and community along the way.”

Bishop Espaillat added that the faith to which he exhorted the youths involved more than simply affirming that God exists.

“It’s not just about believing in God,” he said. “It’s accepting what God gives us, especially through the church, and then responding by our actions by how we treat each other and the way we live.

“Faith is critical because it leads us to joy. And joy overcomes worldly fear because it leads us outside of ourselves.”

During his homily, Bishop Espaillat quoted from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”), in which the pontiff wrote that all believers have the “mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (No. 273).

Regarding the blessing mentioned by the pope, Bishop Espaillat asked his listeners with a smile to raise their hands if they knew how to curse at people.

Many in the stadium predictably raised their hands.

They also cheered loudly after Bishop Espaillat told them that “if you know how to curse, you know how to bless. If you know how to curse, you are following what the enemy wants you to do. That’s what the devil wants. But God doesn’t want you to curse. God wants you to bless. So, instead of cursing somebody out, we need to bless people up.”

In closing his homily, Bishop Espaillat called his young listeners to take up the mission given to them by Christ in their baptism.

“We are the now of God,” he said. “NCYC, we are counting on you. Jesus started with 12 apostles. We have 12,000 here today. So, we can change the world.”

A long, loud cheer filled the stadium in response to Bishop Espaillat’s call. As the cheer died down, the bishop gave a parting blessing: “God bless you. God keep you. May he continue to let his face shine upon you. And always remember: have faith, have fun while you’re doing it. And remember, hold on to the church, because the church is holding on to you.”

The raucousness of the 35-minute homily later gave way to quiet, emotional and heartfelt prayer during Communion as the house band played such popular contemporary Christian meditative songs as “Yeshua” and “Lord, I need you.”

As the Mass closed, the rejoicing returned, with flashlights on smartphones lighting up the floor and stands in the stadium. When the closing procession was over, the band began playing upbeat music and teens rushed forward to celebrate as close to the stage as they could get.

Zach Spahr, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, was proud that so many of his Catholic peers from across the country had come to celebrate their faith.

“There are a lot of times when I think that Indy is not really the best place,” said Zach in a concourse of the stadium after the liturgy. “But then you see something like this and it’s like, ‘What a great place to live.’ There’s a little bit of pride.”

He spoke about how he, as a Catholic, sometimes feels alone at North Central High School in Indianapolis where he’s a student.

“So, seeing that there are so many other Catholics across the country is important to me,” Zach told The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

The jubilation of the 12,000 young Catholics at the closing Mass confirmed that conviction in Ean Nelson, a sophomore from the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa.

“It was something like I’d never seen before,” he said of the closing Mass. “It’s something that I’ll never forget. It was cool being able to see that I’m not alone.”

For Ean, NCYC “was life-changing.”

“I’m going to be more aware of myself, more happy and full of the Lord.”

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

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