KANSAS CITY, Mo.—They clogged downtown streets, jammed restaurants, took up hotel rooms, ate up parking spaces and generally inconvenienced downtown Kansas City.
But the nearly 21,000 teens and their 3,000 adult chaperones and local volunteers also gave the city a three-day gift of faith.
They came to bring themselves closer to Christ. By the time they left the 2009 National Catholic Youth Conference Nov. 19-21, they showed Kansas City—and the world watching live on the Internet—what happens when Jesus Christ pours out of the hearts of thousands of believers.
Joining the throng of faithful were 90 teenagers and their youth leaders from the Diocese of Charleston, S.C.
John Waters, youth director at St. Joseph Church in Columbia, said eight churches from across the diocese, plus a group from Fort Jackson in Columbia, participated in the event.
He said the conference was much deeper than those he has attended in the past and praised it for a nice blend of fun and intense reverence.
“When you see that immense of a group all intent on their Catholic faith, it sends chills down your spine,” Waters said.
In fact, youth from South Carolina are used to being in the religious minority, and Josh Burgess said one of the teens commented on how amazing it was to be with thousands of other people all on fire for the faith.
Burgess, the junior high youth director at Christ Our King in Mount Pleasant, attended with Joan LaBone and about 20 youth from St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken. He said one of the most memorable events was Eucharistic adoration, which was filled to capacity with approximately 18,000 people and an overflow crowd in another room.
Even with that many people, the room was filled with a reverent silence that was spectacular to behold, he said.
The theme of the conference was “Christ Reigns” and it was co-hosted by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.
Participants heard from keynote speakers, were entertained by various musical artists and attended dozens of workshops on such issues as social justice, the Bible, prayer, spirituality and social networking.
Burgess said one topic that really hit home with the youth was the discussion of purity by Jason and Crystalina Evert.
“They didn’t dance around the topic. They really presented abstinence in a positive light; that this is a gift from God and you need to treat it with respect,” Burgess said.
Another highlight was a conference theme park called the Reign Forest, a 200,000-square-foot interactive venue with more than 150 exhibits.
Waters said he was impressed by the large number of vocations booths, and pleasantly surprised to see so many youth visit the booths and talk to the religious there.
Away from their daily setting and the worry about what friends might think, the teens were free to be themselves and really expressed their deep love for the Catholic faith, he said.
“The challenge was thrown out to the kids to be Catholic out in the world,” Waters said. “We desperately need to show others the love of Christ when we get back home.”
He also praised the youth leaders, who, despite the weariness etched in their faces, gathered their groups for prayer every morning and evening, asked the teens how the conference was going, and organized pizza and fellowship at the end of each long day.
Kevin Kelly, Amy Wise Taylor and Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this article.