During an eight-hour “rosary marathon” at the Epiphany Church rosary garden in Coon Rapids, youth from St. Anne/St. Joseph Hien in Minneapolis prayed 1,000 Hail Marys. Splitting into groups, they traded off walking the garden, praying and hand-making rosaries on couches inside.
The event was the final fundraiser for the group’s upcoming trip to Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference, which occurs every two years. This year, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis will send 134 youth from 12 parishes.
On the day of the fundraiser, the youth inside chatted with one another while those outside asked Mary to intercede for one another’s intentions. The young people sought prayers for families going through difficult times and for help in knowing God’s will, among other requests.
Friends, family and church members sponsored the day of prayer with pledges and donations that have so far amounted to $1,400.
The conference draws 20,000 youth from around the country, and registration for it costs nearly $500 per person. A grant from Catholic Youth Foundation USA offset the expense for St. Anne/St. Joseph Hien youth.
“There’s a great enthusiasm about life and being together,” said Bill Dill, youth ministry events coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family and Life. “When you get 20,000 kids together, it’s an excited atmosphere. They’re singing, clapping their hands, sometimes they’re dancing. Most of that doesn’t happen at the average Sunday Mass.”
Liz Chi Pham, youth ministry leader for St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien, grew up in the parish and was never exposed to the buoyant, open praise and worship she encountered at the first youth conference she chaperoned in 2007. As she watched a eucharistic procession move across the conference center, Pham remembers the entire crowd going silent, then kneeling.
“We wondered who had showed up — and it was Jesus. . . . Nobody had to say anything,” she said.
Pham’s experience of Vietnamese Catholic culture growing up, she said, was formal and “introverted.”
There was real community — families at the parish would visit, hold lunches or clean the church together after Mass — but the prayers were recited and the posture was still, Pham said.
Youth who attended the 2007 and 2009 conferences in Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City, Mo., respectively, said they came away changed.
Phong Do, a student at Champlin Park High School, said it’s always been a tough balance between school, social life and his parents’ faith. At NCYC 2009, however, Do was assigned to room with five other guys in a hotel suite. The camaraderie with people who shared his faith was so encouraging he still calls them up sometimes.
“We had a habit of not turning out the lights when they said lights out,” Do recalled. Now, as his way of thanking God, Do always tries to make the sign of the cross before meals, even if it gets him weird looks at school, he said.
The best part of the 2009 conference for Christine Lam, an Academy of Holy Angels junior, was listening to inspiring but down-to-earth speakers like chastity gurus Jason and Crystalina Evert, she said.
This year’s NCYC brings 21-year-old Stacey Nguyen, a trip chaperone, full circle.
When Nguyen accompanied Liz Chi Pham to NCYC four years earlier, she had just returned to the youth group after a time of high school rebellion and hanging out with the wrong crowd, she said.
Nguyen remembers being moved to tears by the stadium of Catholics worshiping loudly and powerfully. After coming home, Nguyen began moving from long, memorized prayers to more conversational moments with God. Prayer became something she wanted to do, not had to do.
The opportunity to watch NCYC transform youth in her parish from the other side, as an adult, excites Nguyen.
“I’m hoping it will impact them as much as it impacted me,” she said.