Published November 3, 2005
She had sung the song perfectly during practice just a few minutes before the Mass, but as Mary Williams took the stage to lead the nearly 17,000 people, including over 120 priests and 15 bishops in the Georgia Dome in the responsorial psalm, her voice, so strong just a few minutes earlier, came out as a whisper, then a squeak.
Mary was one of nearly 100 youth animators who participated in NCYC by leading the audience in song, dance and skits.
But as Mary started her solo during the closing Mass, her voice suddenly chose not to cooperate.
“We had practiced the song, and my voice was perfectly fine,” she said. “I felt really confident going up there.”
The stress of having recently recovered from a cold combined with singing for three days proved too much for Mary’s voice. As a fellow youth animator came up on stage to help her, the audience spontaneously broke into applause in a show of encouragement for Mary, a freshman from St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Snellville.
“At first I felt really alone up there,” she said. “But everyone started clapping, and I felt like even though I’d messed up, it was OK.”
Mary was one of almost 50 regional teens who learned routines, skits and songs over Labor Day weekend. It was the only time before the conference that the youth animators were together for practice. Another 50 or so teens from across the country joined the group at the conference.
Before each performance, the animators joined together in prayer and said, “I will hold you up,” promising to be there for each other. In a phone interview a few days after the NCYC closing Mass, Mary, her voice still hoarse, admits she had no idea how that promise would manifest in her own life as the other youth animator, a teen from Minnesota, came up on stage to help her.
“That moment on stage, when she came up to help me, that’s the whole reason we were there, to hold each other up,” she said.
St. Thomas the Apostle in Smyrna parishioner and senior Liz Nelis was a dancer with the youth animators.
“It was crazy. We practiced together that one weekend, and we haven’t really done anything together until now,” she said. “When we first practiced in the Dome, it was completely empty, but when we went out there and the whole place was full, I was pretty nervous. We all just had to pray. But it was so awesome. Where else can you go to praise God together with so many people? I’m really honored I got to do this.”
Darius Robinson, a high school senior from Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Decatur, read the second reading at the closing Mass.
“Nobody would expect me to do this,” he said. “But it’s been a great experience being with all these people. I wish I could do it again.”
Throughout the keynote sessions, the youth animators led the crowd in praise and worship, their beautiful voices belying their true ages.
Ashley Thacker, a high school freshman from St. Augustine Church in Covington, said that she was “so nervous backstage.”
“I could hear all the people screaming before we came out,” she said. “It was like nothing I ever experienced. It was amazing. It wasn’t about me. It was about helping everyone else to praise God.”
Chris Beeson, a high school senior from Hickory, N.C., had the most vocal solos of all the youth animators. He plays the piano at his parish and also writes music. But the talented youth animator remains humble about his role in the conference.
“I have never sung in front of that many people before,” he said. “It was amazing. I was just in awe of the size.”
But it was in one moment that Chris discovered the entire reason he was there.
“I was down in the choir pit listening to everyone singing ‘Here I Am To Worship,’ and I was just overwhelmed,” he said. “Here are 20,000 youth all involved in praising God. I just started bawling because it was so breathtaking.”