INDIANAPOLIS — At the closing Mass of the National Catholic Youth Conference, Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson encouraged the nearly 11,000 teens from across the country to return home with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

“Let us go forth with that fire to more fully embrace the Lord’s mission in bringing about the kingdom of God, striving always to be Christ-centered in all that we are about,” said Thompson. “Let us go and be disciples. Let us go and make a difference. … Let us take courage. His dominion is indeed everlasting. The glory of God shall not be denied.”

The Nov. 20 Mass in Lucas Oil Stadium celebrated the feast of Christ the King and came on the final day of the three-day conference in Indianapolis.

Throughout NCYC, the youths were led through a meditation on the Apostles and Mary receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, symbolized by tongues of fire that came to rest above their head. Thus, the theme for the conference was, in English, “Ablaze,” and in Spanish, “Enciende el fuego.”

During his homily, Thompson called out at various times the theme in one language with his listeners responding with the theme in the other language.

Thompson noted that Christ’s kingship stood in contrast to the image of the kings of this world.

“His throne was a cross,”  Thompson said. “His crown was made of thorns. He was adorned with nails rather than jewels. And rather than an ornate shrine for burial, he was laid in a borrowed tomb.”

This humble vision of Christ’s reign, however, Thompson said, was essential to the life of the church.

“After all, without the cross, there is no Eucharist,” he said. “Without the Eucharist, there is no church. And without the church, there is no NCYC. It all hinges on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, his total gift of self for our salvation.”

Thompson encouraged his listeners to nurture a relationship with Christ so that they could learn to recognize the voice of him who is their shepherd and friend.

“Just as we do with family and our closest friends, we must spend quality time with him — not just at NCYC, but every day,” Thompson said.

Having an active life of faith in which Christ can reign as king in our heart throughout the rest of the year beyond NCYC is the challenge, Thompson noted.

“It’s easy when we’re all here together sharing the same faith,” he said. “It’s another thing when we have to do that sometimes out on that limb alone, out in our schools, neighborhoods and workplaces. In other words, we cannot let the world get the best of us, but to dare to give our best for the mission of Jesus Christ in transforming the world. You possess that grace within you.”

Annalise Loucks knows that challenge well. Attending NCYC for the second time, she is a student at a public high school in Salina, Kansas, where she said living Gospel principles is far from the norm.

On the last day of the conference, not long before she’d return home, Annalise spoke of her renewed desire to “spread the word” in her school.

“There are a lot of people at my school who are scared to show their faith,” she said. “I want to open up and spread God’s word more and be unashamed.”

At the closing Mass, Thompson urged Annalise and the thousands of other youths there to allow the fire of the Holy Spirit “to permeate your particular gifts, talents and energy in service to others, not merely in our own name, but in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, king of the universe.”

He also reminded them of the importance of putting into action their God-given talents to the life of the church.

“Embrace your place in the church,” Thompson said. “To carry out the mission of Christ, the church needs each and every one of us. To be clear, you are not the future church, but the young church here and now.”

Youths at the Mass spoke afterward of the joy they felt about gathering with their fellow Catholic teens from across the country, especially after all of the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, which began just a few months after the last NCYC in late 2019.

“It was one of the most touching ceremonies I’ve ever seen,” Aaron Baker of Barnesville, Minnesota, said of the closing Mass in an interview with The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese. “It’s so nice to just be back here with all my friends and peers, and all the friends I made before at the last NCYC.”

“I grew quite a lot in my spiritual journey,” said Sloane Janopoulos of Naples, Florida. “I didn’t know that that many people feel the same way that I do.”

In his final words to his young listeners, Thompson encouraged them to “keep the fire alive. By God’s grace, keep the fire alive.”

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