Fr. Fernando Camou, outgoing chaplain of St. John Paul II Catholic High School, leads youth in Eucharistic Adoration at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 18. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

Just months after Pope Francis published his post-synodal exhortation “Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive),” written specifically to young people, youth from throughout the Diocese of Phoenix participated in the Catholic Youth Congreso (CYC) May 18-19.

Br. Javier Garcia (Tato) speaks at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 19. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

The objective of last year’s Synod on Young People, which preceded the exhortation, was to address the relationship between them, the faith, and vocation in light of contemporary issues presented by the world, issues which tend to obscure the things of religion in the minds of Catholics young and old. Addressing similar issues, the Congreso — held at the Phoenix Convention Center — invited participants to “Ignite your Light,” the theme for the event inspired by Matthew 5:14-16.

The bilingual nature of the Congreso, which was organized by Pastoral Juvenil Hispana program of the diocese’s Office of Hispanic Parish Leadership Support, reflected the reality that the majority of Catholic youth in the diocese are Hispanic.

“Pastoral Juvenil is here to work with youth ministers to do God’s will … our mission is to defend young adults who need it,” said Emmanuel Gonzalez, facilitator for Pastoral Juvenil, adding that he was glad to “see happy faces on the youth.”

Teaching children how to be leaders and that they be close with God is his mission. He is concerned with the news being a greater authority in young people’s lives than the Church.

Missionary of Charity Sr. Christopher Chacon joins youth in clapping along to music at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 19. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

“Sometimes we walk away from God to a path of darkness” Gonzalez said. To prevent this from happening to young Catholics, he said, “adults must be an example to the youth.”

In a bilingual Mass on Sunday, Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares recommended that youth live a life rich in prayer and sacraments, necessities for young Catholics in order to cultivate true friendship with Christ and be drawn into closer union with Him and thus prevent the chance of them wandering away from the Church. Rather than dismissing or ignoring it in light of challenges, youth ought to rely on the Church whose “long tradition of 2000 years [going] all the way back to Jesus fulfills His promise that ‘I am with you for all days.’”

The primary way of  “Making our God Real for us today” — another theme of the Congreso — is through reading the Bible, the bishop said. Through the Bible we come to “know about Jesus.” Without this biblical knowledge of Christ, “He is not real to us.”

Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares celebrated the Sunday Mass at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 19. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)
Florida-based Catholic rapper “Communion” performs at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 18. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

Alvaro Vega, who prefers to go by his stage name “Communion,” traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he lives, to attend in the Congreso.

“The Church is not boring; it is relevant,” exclaimed Vega, who often encounters young alienated Catholics.

This hispanic rapper has made it his life’s mission to bring the Church’s beauty — and the truth that such beauty reflects — to young people. Vega fulfills this need to evangelize through popularly persuasive means, a primary concern of the Second Vatican Council, through his music, the content of which is not secular, but intensely religious.

His music has been well received, gaining more than 3 million views on YouTube, including 2.7 million views for his song “Creo en Dios (I Believe),” which has been translated into several languages. In his music he preaches “Faith in Christ, the one true Church, and belief in Catholic doctrine and moral teachings.” His song “I believe” is an “anthem to empower the youth and open their eyes to the beauty of the Church.” He wishes to make them proud and unashamed of the Gospel.

To amend the experience of his own poor catechesis, Vega tries to catechize others, especially the young, through his music, to prevent ignorance of the Faith which leads to abandonment of the Church. He had T-shirts upon which the assonant Spanish slogan “Un catolico ignorante es un futuro Protestante” (An ignorant Catholic is a future Protestant) is depicted.

Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, principal of St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Avondale, suggested on a vocations panel that those in the process of discerning their vocation “listen carefully to God speaking.”

“God chose me to be married to God,” she said. “Our vocation is a gift.” Sr. Mary Jordan added that she was able to realize her vocation through being raised in a faithful familial context.

Mexican missionary Juan-Pablo Mendoza shares his journey on a vocations panel at the Catholic Youth Congreso May 19. Joining him on the panel are married couple Cristian and Jessica Arrellano from St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix and Sr. Mary Jordan, principal of St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Avondale. (Courtesy of Gilberto Zazueta)

Discussing married life, Cristian and Jessica Arellano from St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix likened the experience of a vocation to such youthful desires which proclaim “I want to be a cop.”

“We must ask the question, what is it we are looking for?” Cristian said.

The Arrellanos shared with The Catholic Sun how delighted they were by the amount of youth in attendance, and how they attentively listened to the speakers at the various events.

“The youth are the present of the Church, they have the energy to share their gifts, and good ideas as to what the future of the Church should be,” they said.


— By Ryan McPherson, THE CATHOLIC SUN.