By John Shaughnessy, Catholic News Service

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — Sixteen-year-old Roch Egan remembers the moment as a turning point in his faith — the day when his mother was near death.

“Five years ago, my mom had a miscarriage, and she almost died at home and in the hospital,” recalled Roch, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. “I remember that night praying like crazy. Ever since then, I’ve gotten so much closer to God. I trust him more.

“Now, I like to think of God as a friend, even though I know he’s much more than that. I can go to him whenever I need him. My faith is what my life is for now.”

Roch shared that turning point in his faith during the opening day of the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis Nov. 18.

He was one of the 12,000 youths from across the country attending the three-day event, and many of them came with their own story of turning closer to God and wanting to deepen their relationship with him even more.

In a year when masks were required to attend the conference, the youths may have had to hide their smiles, but they still freely expressed the joy of their faith and their bond with God.

At 18, Ava Yurczyk shared that her Catholic faith is the focal point of her life.

“It’s what I base my values, my decisions around,” said Ava, a member of St. Luke Parish in Shoreline, Washington, in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

A high school senior, Ava turned to her faith in God when she was trying to make a decision that countless peers will be making this year — choosing the right college.

“I’ve always felt called to be a caregiver, which has led to my desire to be a nurse in a neo-intensive care unit,” she told The Criterion, Indianapolis’ archdiocesan newspaper. “I wanted to find a place where I could combine deepening my faith along with my education — and being around people who can support me and so we can grow together.”

That desire led her to choose the University of Mary in Bismarck, South Dakota, as her college destination.

“The second I stepped on campus, I turned to my dad and said, ‘I could live here for four years,'” Ava recalled. “I knew it was the place for me.”

She also feels confident in her choice knowing the Catholic university is named after the Blessed Mother.

“I know I’m going to be a mom someday, and I’ve turned to Mary for that calling. I’ve found comfort in my relationship with her,” she said.

Miguel Saucedo was seeking a measure of comfort and hope in his life about a year ago.

“I was struggling. I was lonely,” said Miguel, a member of the Church of the Annunciation Parish in Shelbyville, Kentucky, in the Archdiocese of Louisville. “Then I realized there was somebody who knew more about me than I do myself. God has been there for me from day one.

“I asked him to promise me to help me through everything I was going through. I heard something pop into my head — ‘I promise.’ I actually did cry when that happened. I cried tears of joy.”

At 16, Valentina Chavez has the same deep love of her faith that brings so many Catholic youths to the National Catholic Youth Conference every two years.

“For most of us, our faith has always been there for us since we were born,” said Valentina, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “It’s something we’ve learned to love and appreciate, thanks to our parents. We’re very blessed to have a very supportive parish and families to help us get involved in church.”

Still, she said, the teenage years are a time of challenge in many youths’ lives in regard to their faith.

“Especially at our age, as teenagers, we get judged a lot about our faith,” Valentina said. “A lot of people don’t have the same faith as us. Coming from our youth group, we have a strong faith, but it does get difficult at times. We remind ourselves that God is with us.”

It’s a feeling that resonated with many of the youths attending NCYC this year.

“We’re here for a reason,” Valentina said. “And God is always here for us.”