Ernest Alcántara played Jesus in the musical “The Answer (La Repuesta)” during the Catholic Youth Congreso June 16. The musical cast included youth and young adults from the Diocese of Phoenix. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

What the participants had to say …

Last year I came with my friend and I kind of felt something. I don’t know what it was and I just hope I can feel the same thing again — a motivating force. I’ve been able to accomplish better things in school and especially with my parents. And with all the struggles I had in the last year, I’ve been able to repair most of them and I just hope I can repair all of them this year.

— Alex Pardo, age 16, St. Anthony Parish

I’ve been having a hard time and I just feel like I needed an experience of God. I listened to the beginning of the talk on suicide. It explained that suicide is seen in a way that it’s like not real. For a while I didn’t go to church and I honestly started thinking that God didn’t exist. So I feel like I need to be closer so that doesn’t happen again.

— Andrea Heredia, age 16, Mary’s Ministries in South Phoenix (Five Alive)

It’s not just fun but it’s actually very interesting, very entertaining when it comes to great speakers, there’s a great band always playing. The speakers that they bring — they never repeat them and everybody that has ever come and given a talk, I would want to repeat them just because they’re always so great, so filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. You know how you see someone and you feel that Holy Spirit through them and it just kind of seeps through you? That’s how it feels. Every speaker that goes there it’s just such a blessing for our group. I bring the teens because it’s just filled with joy.

— Adriana Hernandez, age 25, Youth Group leader, St. Gregory Parish



At a time when many young people are struggling with finding meaning in their lives, a ray of hope shone down on Phoenix as hundreds of teens and young adults were drawn to the 2018 Catholic Youth Congreso.

With internationally known speakers on topics ranging from same-sex attraction to suicide prevention to vocations and the path to holiness, the two-day conference drew members of youth groups from parishes across the Diocese of Phoenix. A rock musical, Mass, confessions, food, plus plenty of time to pray and connect with other young people filled out the bilingual event held at the Phoenix Convention Center June 16-17.

Carmen Portela, director of the Office of Hispanic Parish Leadership Support for the Phoenix Diocese that sponsored the event, said the conference didn’t shy away from controversial topics.

“The Church as a mother-teacher wants to shed light on these topics and give students the tools to address these issues,” Portela said. “It’s not that we live in a better or worse time than any other — it’s the time that Christ has chosen for us to live in and we have to bring His light to it.”

EN ESPAÑOL: Jesucristo es la respuesta, dicen conferencistas a jóvenes

The purpose of the conference, Portela said, was to help young people “deepen their relationship with Christ” and “give them the understanding that they are the presence of the Church and that they have to complete the responsibilities that Christ is giving them.”

Danielle Burr and Miranda Maciel led the session on suicide prevention. With an alarming increase in the number of suicides nationwide — and 26 deaths by suicide among teenagers in the East Valley during the last school year alone — it’s a topic that’s gaining steam. Burr, a licensed marriage and family therapist, leads the youth group at St. Francis Xavier Parish and, with Maciel, hosts the “I Got Issues” podcast produced by the diocesan Office of Communications.

Burr offered the audience members tips on what to do to combat depression and anxiety in their own lives as well as direction on what to do if a friend is thinking about hurting themselves.

“If you notice something is going on with a friend and they are making comments like, ‘It’s better if I’m not here anymore,’ never hesitate to tell an adult.You may save someone’s life,” Burr said.

Maciel and Burr both cautioned the crowd to be cautious about the type of music they listen to and television programs they watch. “You’re allowing that into your soul and your mind,” Maciel said. “It does weigh on you.”

“There are shows and music we shouldn’t listen to,” Burr said. “They are not of God and can be very destructive.”

The crowd peppered the two women with questions ranging from what to do if a friend dies by suicide, how to cope with parents who don’t believe in counseling or therapy and how to get help if the family doesn’t have many resources.

If you’ve lost a friend to suicide, you probably need counseling yourself to process the grief, Burr said. And Catholic Charities as well as a host of other Christian-based organizations offer low-cost or free counseling. As far as parents go, Burr said, remember that they love you, she said. “Always go to your parents first,” Burr said, but she also noted that a pastor, youth group leader or school counselor can help sort things out.

The overall theme of the conference, “The Answer Generation,” pointed to young people’s search for meaning in an increasingly secular society and Fr. Sergio López’s presentation encouraged them to believe that they are all called to become saints.

Many young people don’t find the answers to their questions, Fr. López said, but “the answer is Jesus Christ … He gives us the answer to everything.”