The last couple of blogs were heavily focused on logistical items for NCYC. Although important, logistics should not be the focal point. With multiple years of experience bringing young people to NCYC between them, David Stagliano and Donald Smith are here to help you think even deeper about your ‘trip’. There is more to NCYC than just its speakers, talent, and exhibit hall. It is a pilgrimage for thousands of young people. To help you cultivate this culture in your diocese, keep reading!
Why a Pilgrimage?
The Church is called to be a pilgrim people always seeking to journey with and to Christ. Going to NCYC is no different. We prepare, journey to, and come back from NCYC in hopes of strengthening and deepening our relationship with Christ. By changing the expectation of going to NCYC from a field trip or vacation to a pilgrimage, young people and adults will see the experience in a different way. The mundane things become mystical, Christ becomes the center, and worrying about logistics becomes secondary.
How to Prepare for a Pilgrimage?
When preparing for NCYC, start by explaining what a pilgrimage is. Many young people and some adults may not even know what that word really means. Perhaps ask adults who have been on a pilgrimage or teens who have been to NCYC before share their experience of pilgrimage to the group. Making NCYC a pilgrimage begins with changing mindset. Help them think about the principles of a pilgrimage and allow them to be creative in implementing those principles into their experience at NCYC.
- Pilgrims perceive an internal dimension to the pilgrimage
- Pilgrims invest themselves
- The focus for the pilgrim will be affected by the pilgrimage
- Both the journey and arrival are important to a pilgrim
- Community is formed for pilgrims
The best place to start is your adults. Share with them the mission of pilgrimage and convert their minds to a pilgrimage mindset. As chaperones, their mindset should have a trickle-down effect on the youth that they accompany. Better yet, adults will worry less about the logistics and be more concerned with entering a pilgrimage journey. Pilgrimages are messy, but we should always leave room for the Spirit to work.
The pilgrimage begins when a young person says, “Yes!” to going to NCYC. Before leaving, prepare your young people by giving them expectations about how to act in a pilgrim way from the pre-session before NCYC to coming back home from NCYC. Youth can even sign a covenant committing themselves to learn, pray, and even bring something back to the parish community.
NCYC is home to many opportunities for diverse prayer. From Mass in different cultural settings to rosaries, challenge your youth to experience these types of prayer. With a pilgrim mindset even the simple act of waiting in line for confession can be a mode of prayer. It can also be useful to introduce these prayer experiences to your group before going to NCYC like hosting your own Eucharistic Adoration.
Prayer does not have to be isolated at NCYC. Your parish community can also partake in NCYC by praying for your young people. Include an intention for your youth in the parish masses or include their names in the bulletin. Let the young people know that they are being prayed for, knowing this will allow them to understand they are part of their larger faith community. They may be encouraged to pray for the needs of their community back home and others.
Handwritten journals before, during, and after the conference will allow young people to read and reflect on how their interior life has changed throughout the pilgrimage. The simple act of handwriting will allow for young people to slow down and prayerfully reflect on their experiences on pilgrimage.
Is the Pilgrimage over yet?
When coming back from NCYC, the call to pilgrim is not over. NCYC’s mission is to form missionary disciples that go out and serve in local communities. When pilgrims come back, the whole community should welcome them and acknowledge the gifts that they brought home. In the same way, the community should also send their pilgrims off by having a Mass or blessing. This many times may give the youth a sense of responsibility to come back with renewed hearts and spiritual gifts.
Leaders should also share the experience of NCYC with the greater community by sharing videos and pictures of the experience or even asking youth to give a testimony to the community.
In addition, have the youth continue journaling with the material they have received. There are a lot of new experiences that happen at NCYC so it will take a lot of time for youth to digest. Have debriefing sessions or allow young people to converse about their experience as a group.
All this is in the hope that the young people will be supported when coming home to be gifts and disciples of the church in their local community. What they learn at the conference should be built upon and raised up when they go back home.
For more about NCYC as a pilgrimage, Donald Smith has produced a great resource including a more in-depth introduction about NCYC as a pilgrimage and lesson plans to be used pre and post NCYC.