By ERIKA ANDERSON, Staff Writer | Published October 6, 2005
It’s not every day that a teenager gets a chance to play nine holes of putt-putt with Catholic leaders from across the country, but at the National Catholic Youth Conference set for Atlanta at the end of October, attendees will have the opportunity to test their skills against Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and other bishops and priests from Atlanta and the nation.
And if a teen’s putt is less than pretty, there’s air hockey and ping-pong, too.
One of the main features of the National Catholic Youth Conference, which will be held Oct. 27-29 at the Georgia World Congress Center and Georgia Dome, is the thematic park, which will be filled with interactive games, exhibits and music—all designed to speak to Catholic teens in different ways.
Janice Givens, the coordinator for the thematic park, said that a team of people, mostly volunteers, has been brainstorming and planning for over a year.
“We wanted to create an area where the teens can come and hear something, see something or be touched by something that will cause them to make a change in their life,” she said. “We want them to come away changed so that they can be able to say that they have experienced something new in their faith.”
In that sense, the theme of the park, “Extreme Makeover—Catholic Edition,” is an appropriate name. Divided into four football field-sized areas, or quads, each section will focus on the mind, body, spirit or community aspect of the Catholic faith.
“These teens have a chance to see God in a whole new light,” Givens said, specifically citing the “Mind Quad” which features the Passion of the Christ Prayer Walk with actual relics from Jesus’ last hours on earth. “They will be able to see a piece of the True Cross or a relic of the table of the Last Supper where our faith began. It’s mind-blowing.”
Also in the Mind Quad is the John Paul II Student Center, sponsored by Southern Catholic College. The student center will feature exhibits from Catholic colleges and universities around the country, Texas Hold ‘Em poker, a lounge showing football and movie clips, Catholic Jeopardy and more. The Cyber Café is also located within the Mind Quad, and teens can check their e-mail, download ring tones and try their hand at electronic gadgets and Xbox games.
In the Body Quad, attendees will witness demonstrations by BMX Extreme Bikers, experiential games by the National Center for Catholic Youth Sports, an exhibition basketball tournament on Friday by Georgia Special Olympics and pick-up soccer games and character building exercises on Saturday. On Saturday at noon, teens will have the unique opportunity to break the world record for the number of people playing Twister. Teens are asked to bring a canned good and “Twist for Hunger.”
In the Spirit Quad, teens will participate in the “Teens 2 Teens” service area. The “We Care” project will allow them the opportunity to reach out to teens in need by making care packages to send locally to teens in foster homes, nationally to teens whose parents are serving in the military abroad and to those in the Gulf Coast region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. On Saturday, they will reach out internationally to teens at St. John Bosco’s Home for Boys in Jamaica. They will also be making fleece blankets for premature babies and bandana scarves for children hospitalized with cancer.
It’s also in the Spirit Quad where teens will test their skills against bishops, priests and Religious sisters in the vocations area.
Father Brian Higgins, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and a team of seminarians have been working to create a unique environment to showcase vocations for the teens who will attend NCYC. “The Master’s Clubhouse,” will be a two-story clubhouse, surrounded by a nine-hole putt-putt course. Teens can sign up to play putt-putt against bishops, priests and sisters, or can hang out in the clubhouse and play ping-pong or air hockey. They will also have a chance to sit and talk with seminarians inside the clubhouse, or can put their faces in a cut-out of a priest, bishop or sister and have their picture taken.
“Our goal is to show priests, seminarians and Religious sisters in a social light,” Father Higgins said. “Sometimes on the altar they may seem unapproachable, and this is a way to show them in a more human way.”
Father Higgins said that the conference also gives the seminarians a chance to work on their own evangelization and ministry skills. However, he said, it is the young people who are the priority.
“It’s a great opportunity because young people are so enthusiastic and open,” he said. “They want reality. This is a way to evangelize and show them that there are greater options out there for their lives.”
The final quad is the Community Quad. Teens can take a break in the Catacomb Café performance stage, which is sponsored by Life Teen and will showcase national and local talent of all types of music, as well as comedians and multicultural dance teams.
The Images of God and Mary Artist’s Lounge is also in the Community Quad and teens can “paint by number” large, beautiful murals of images of God and Mary.
The Community Quad will also feature arts and crafts in which teens can make a rosary or friendship bracelet to exchange, or pick up and design a prayer journal.
In addition to the main areas of the park, “The Amazing Race” will have clues and instructions that will lead teens through the park to different areas each day. By completing the “Race” for the day they will be entered into a raffle, which will feature dozens of prizes each day.
Finally, throughout the park there will be “Extreme Experience Interactive Booths” which will engage and inspire teens with thought- provoking and hands-on interactive experiences.
“There is really something for everybody, for teens at all levels of their faith,” Givens said. “There is just so much to see.”
Givens said it has been exciting to see the hard work of their committee come to fruition.
“I am incredibly amazed at the energy and persistence of our volunteers,” she said. “We are finally at the implementation stage and it’s so exciting to see that.”
Barb Garvin, director of youth ministry for the archdiocese and the host diocesan director for NCYC, offered praise for Givens and her committee.
“They have really done a phenomenal job putting things in there that will really make teenagers think about the way they are living their lives,” she said. “The thematic park will appeal to every kid in every walk of life and will make them realize how cool it is to be Catholic.”