More than 200 Catholics kneel in prayer during the first Young Men's Conference Jan. 2 at St. Paul Parish (NAME/Catholic Sun)

More than 200 Catholics kneel in prayer during the first Young Men’s Conference Jan. 2 at St. Paul Parish. (Justin Bell/CATHOLIC SUN)

Organizers of the “Into the Breach — Young Men’s Conference” did not know how many young men would actually show up to the event held at St. Paul Parish in north Phoenix on Jan. 2 — only about 60 had registered online. They were pleased when over 200 attended the daylong conference, learning and growing in their faith.

The conference and its theme was held in conjunction with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation to Catholic Men, also called “Into the Breach,” where the bishop addresses his sons and brothers in Christ in a letter.

He begins the letter in what he describes as a “clarion call and clear charge.”

“Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men,” wrote Bishop Olmsted. “This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”

The “Into the Breach” movement will also feature a Men’s conference Feb. 6 in Phoenix.

Youth minister Chris Martinez answers a question during a vibrant Q-and-A session during the Jan. 2 Young Men’s Conference. Martinez was part of a five-member panel that included (from left) diocesan Marriage and Respect Life director Mike Phelan, Fr. John Parks, chaplain at Notre Dame High School, seminarian Deacon Dan Conneally and former NFL player Chris Horn. (Justin Bell/CATHOLIC SUN)

The young men’s gathering featured mostly high-school-aged men who listened to speakers, played games of dodgeball and tug-of-war, prayed in Eucharistic Adoration and attended a vigil Mass. Many of the participants waited patiently in a long line to go to Confession, administered by a platoon of priests. They also listened to and engaged with a panel of speakers during a vibrant question and answer segment.

Fr. Fernando Camou — who at age 25 is the youngest priest in the Diocese of Phoenix — led a Gospel-inspired meditation, kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament with young men behind him in the make-shift chapel, while others lined up for confession outside.

The young priest bookended this segment with a “prayer to take authority,” a formal prayer.

“It’s a way that — in the name of Jesus — we, as baptized Christians, can bind and cast out demons,” said Fr. Camou.

They “aren’t always, you know, big scary demons that possess people physically and make you drop on the floor, foaming at the mouth,” he said. “Many of these demons, in fact, most the ones we experience are those of confusion, of despair, of shame, of fear.”

He reiterated the need for the baptized to take authority in the name of Jesus to “pronounce, command those demons to leave us, bind them by his precious blood, by his power — bind them and cast them out.”

Chris Horn, (CATHOLIC SUN)
Chris Horn, a former Arena Football League and NFL player, shared a time when he stepped into the breach and what happened next. (Justin Bell/CATHOLIC SUN)

Not every talk was on the serious side. Chris Horn, a former Arena Football League and NFL player, used humorous anecdotes of his playing days and times when he felt he was called to step into the breach to drive home messages of courage, trust and love.

Once, while at dinner with his coach friends, Horn returned from the restroom to find a weird and tense atmosphere at the table. The men already knew about Horn’s strong faith and witness to Christ, and were hesitant to tell them of the group’s desire to go to a strip club that evening. Eventually one of the men did.

Horn made eye contact with everyone there and told them, “Hell no. … I made a public vow to my wife and anyone that’s married here did too, to their wife.”

Horn said that the conversation changed to French fries, evoking laughter from the attendees.

“But what happened was nobody went to the strip club. Charge into the breach,” said Horn.

His story showed that often it takes one person to carry the flag for Christ and others who are silent will follow the lead.

At the Mass celebrating the Epiphany of Our Lord, diocesan Vocations Director Fr. Paul Sullivan asked men who were thinking about a possible call to the priesthood or religious life to stand up and then prayed over them. He did the same for men thinking they were called to marriage.

Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix, prays over young men who said they felt called to a religious vocation during a young men's conference Jan. 2. (CATHOLIC SUN)
Fr. Paul Sullivan, director of vocations for the Diocese of Phoenix, prays over young men who said they felt called to a religious vocation during a young men’s conference Jan. 2. (Justin Bell/CATHOLIC SUN)

Afterward, Fr. Sullivan told The Catholic Sun that he prayed that “the young men would know they have a mission and that they would boldly start to prepare themselves for that — by seeking holiness, by staying among brothers in the faith and inspiring others to do the same thing.”

Austin Dang, a senior at McClintock High School, attended the conference and said, “I think the conference was good for men, to help men know what true masculinity is. True masculinity is centered in Christ, is focused on Christ.”

Dang plans to attend Arizona State University to graduate with a degree in accounting. After that, “we’ll see where God takes me.” He also told of his thoughts about the priesthood and had a request.

“For everyone that’s reading this, if you can say a quick Hail Mary for me, I’d be really grateful,” said Dang.