Teens step up on journey of faith

By John Shaughnessy, Catholic News Service   
Photos By Shaun Mena | COURTESY ST. RAYMOND-ST. LEO THE GREAT PARISH

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) – For seven weeks, 10 teenagers from the youth group at St. Raymond-St. Leo the Great  Parish in New Orleans practiced a special “step dance” tied to the message in Psalm 119:113: “Steady my feet in accord with your promise; do not let iniquity lead me.”

On Nov. 23 inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the Psalm 119 Step Dancers “ordered their steps” as a reverent offering to 20,000 youth attending the three-day National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC).

“Many of these young people – this was the first time they met each other, even though this is their parish,” said Dr. Ansel Augustine, step team coordinator. “You see them now, and they can’t stop talking to each other.

“My prayer is that this sparks something in relation to youth ministry at St. Raymond-St. Leo. I think they finally see that they have a place in ministry leadership in some way, shape or form.”

A moving event  

For 15-year-old Tabitha Njoroge of Indianapolis, being together with 20,000 Catholic youths from across the country was a revelation, especially considering how much her life has changed in three years.

Back then, Tabitha, her parents and her three sisters had left their homeland in Kenya to come to the United States.

“Back there, we were struggling to have a meal,” Njoroge recalled.

It’s partly why the theme of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis Nov. 21-23 – “Blessed, Broken, Given” – resonates so much with her.

“I’m blessed with my family. I really couldn’t be myself without them. They help me a lot in my life,” said Njoroge, a member of Holy Angels Parish in her new home, Indianapolis. “And ‘given’ – I was given a chance to come here to the United States to have a new life. It’s a huge opportunity.”

She paused before adding, “It’s not like I’m broken, but leaving my family members at home – like my cousins – it’s kind of lonely sometimes.”

Njoroge’s insights about her life show the dual nature of the mindset of the youths participating in NCYC, a biennial event organized by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry with help from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as conference host.

For three days, the 20,000 teenagers form a joyful, energetic and unifying representation of how much their Catholic faith means to them, of how much they have to offer the church.

Many came with their own stories of how the theme of the conference – “Blessed, Broken, Given” – personally reflects their own lives and their ever-developing relationship with God.

Logan Struewing of Indianapolis said the theme of “broken” resonated with him.

“For me and a lot of people, we all have ways we are broken,” said Struewing, 17. “None of us is perfect. God knows we are broken, but he still believes in us, and he still wants us to be the best we can be. That gives me a lot of hope. Even when I’m feeling the lowest I can feel, God is there to pick me back up.”

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