"The most common response from kids is that, 'For four days, being Catholic is cool,'" said Rosemary Gavin, pastoral associate for youth and faith formation at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham.

The second comment she hears most often from teens attending the biannual National Catholic Youth Conference is, "I can't believe there are so many Catholic kids out there like me!"

This year's NCYC will be held Nov. 16-18 at at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. As with past conferences, there will be an emphasis on service, breakout sessions, music and prayer.

One new feature of this year's NCYC will be that young people who are unable to travel to Indianapolis will be able to live-stream major sessions on the conference website, www.ncyc.info.

"It's like the national version of World Youth Day," said David Stagliano, diocesan associate director of campus ministry and youth ministry. This year, the Diocese of Albany will be represented by 27 parish groups, totaling 274 participants.

Activities
NCYC also offers a "Thematic Village," an area filled with exhibit booths and interactive activities and games that demonstrate the different ways that the teens are called to the Lord. Centering around this year's NCYC theme of "Called," the village invites young Catholics to "make a rosary, throw a football, hear live music and pick up resources from leading Catholic publishers."

A key feature of the village this year will be a volunteer opportunity with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development organization. In past years, teens were able to assemble bags of beans and rice or stitch together dresses made of pillowcases to clothe young girls in Third World countries.

This year, participants will be taking part in packaging 70,000 meals for Burkina Faso, a drought-ridden country in West Africa. There's also a goal of raising $15,000 so that an additional 30,000 meals can be sent.

Takeaways
"It's not about going to have a good time," Mr. Stagliano said of NCYC, even though fun is inevitable at the three-day conference. "You go and you take something away. You have this experience and you don't let it sit. I challenge them to go back home and take action."

Ms. Gavin said she encourages her students to bring back any idea that sparks their passion and interest and act on it. At previous conferences, she has seen teens connect with liturgical dance, a key element of Masses at NCYC, and then try it themselves during Masses back in the Albany Diocese.

This is Mr. Stagliano's fifth trip to NCYC as a director. He said the youths' enthusiasm is infectious.

Our Lady of the Assumption parish has seen real-life evidence of that enthusiasm when it comes to participation in this year's NCYC trip, said Ms. Gavin. While the average was once about 11 students making the journey, this year 16 teens in grades 10-12 from the parish will be in attendance.

Lessons
"I like to watch the kids," Ms. Gavin admitted. "I learn by watching their behavior."

At the parish, she explained, "I am so consumed with my responsibilities, I look at them with a supervisory standpoint. [At NCYC], watching a teen for the first time open their palms up and worship with their eyes closed for the first time -- that's powerful!"

Brigid Maguire, a parishioner of St. John the Baptist Church in Walton, has been working hard to make sure that the 13 teens from St. John's and from St. Peter's in Delhi, which are linked, are able to attend NCYC.

Mrs. Maguire first went to the conference with her daughter. When the pair returned and spread the good word about the national conference, St. John's and St. Peter's decided to send more teens.

The effort grew from there. Now, the majority of the teens in the parishes' faith formation program will be at NCYC, among the 25,000 other young Catholics from all 50 states.

The two parishes have been fundraising ferociously since the last NCYC in 2015 in an effort to pay for each student's trip. The cost of the conference is approximately $1,000 per participant.

Recently, the parishes raffled off a "state of the art" kayak, paddle and life jacket. They have also had gift basket raffles, quilt raffles, community garage sales and pancake dinners.

Jose Mirabel, a 17-year-old parishioner of St. John's, said he enjoyed taking part in all of the fundraisers, though he drew the line at baking himself.

"I would help set up tables," he explained. "The church and the whole community helped out."

Jose noted that he'll have to take two days off of school to go to the conference, a sacrifice for the Walton High School junior. He's planning on doing his homework on the 12-hour bus ride to Indianapolis.

'Really cool'
"It's really cool to spend three days doing Catholic stuff," said Cara Gielfkie, a 17-year-old parishioner of St. Peter's. "There were a lot of speakers that I follow online, so it was really cool to see them in person" at the last NCYC.

Cara won't be disappointed this year, with appearances scheduled by Grammy-winning Christian hip-hop artist TobyMac, speaker Emily Wilson and five-time Grammy nominee Matt Maher. Internationally-known speaker Chris Stefanick will be another familiar face at NCYC.

Mrs. Maguire will be making her fourth trip to NCYC this year, wearing both the hat of a chaperone and that of a registered nurse. Mr. Stagliano recruits several nurses every year to be on call during the weekend as an added safety precaution for the group.

Mr. Stagliano told The Evangelist that the conference always takes security seriously and is sure to continue that practice after the recent tragedy in Las Vegas.

This year's event will be special for the delegates from Albany, he added: Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger will be in attendance, celebrating an opening liturgy for the contingent from the Albany Diocese on the first evening of the conference.

One thing's for sure, said Ms. Gavin: "When it's all over, we all sleep for three days straight. Then we start tapping into that energy and moving forward."

(For more information or to live-stream the conference Nov. 16-18, go to www.ncyc.info.)