Although only in its second official year, it seems safe to say that the Southwest Catholic Youth Conference has become a much-anticipated event in the Diocese of Gallup and beyond. For the second time, teens and young people from New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona gathered for a day of evangelization, music, and fellowship. The highlight of the conference were talks, interspersed throughout the day from such speakers as Chris Stefanick, Bishop Wall, actor David Henrie and former model Leah Darrow. While each speaker’s life experience was different from the others, their messages for young people carried a common theme: humility, chastity, sacrifice and joy, all in service to God.
Dan Anguis is the executive director of the Colorado pro-life organization LifeGuard, the primary sponsor behind the conference. He said that with each year, the conference strives to drive home the worth of human life to each young person.
“We strive to teach teens of their inherent dignity, and incomparable worth as a son or daughter of God. If they can begin to understand that, they won’t sell themselves short when it comes to love,” said Anguis. “If teens are taught a true definition of love, then they won’t fall for all the cheap imitations of it that Planned Parenthood, Cosmo, MTV, etc. try to sell them. Purity is not saying no to sex, but yes to true love – God – and the sacraments are the key to running the good race.”
The sacraments were also included throughout the conference. In the evening, Bishop James Wall celebrated Mass onstage with several priests concelebrating.
“We are here because of the Lord – we’re here because we love Jesus,” Bishop Wall said during his opening prayer. “He came into the world to save us – it’s the Good News! We’re here to celebrate the Good News.”
The conference ended later in the night with Adoration, and throughout the entire day, many priests were available to hear confessions.
“Personally, my favorite part of the day was seeing how many teens were in line for confession,” said Anguis. “Our estimate is that at least 700 teens went! God is good.”
Emma Walsh from Sacred Heart Parish in Farmington, NM was one of the thousand or so young people who attended the conference. For her, the best part of the day was the fellowship, and the reminder that no one is alone in following God.
“I know I forget sometimes that I’m not the only person in the entire world who’s actually struggling,” she said. “And when you look around, there’s a bunch of people who are on fire for God, they’re on fire with the love of their faith, but they’re also struggling, and that’s why they’re here. So it’s really nice to be surrounded by people who are trying…because it reminds you that you’re not alone.”
Elijah John Watson, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Tohatchi, NM, said that the speakers were his favorite part of the conference.
“They were awesome, just with all the different topics,” he said. “I’m someone who wants to get closer to God, and they were great for that.”
The conference was held at the Civic Center in Farmington, NM, and while the speakers and band were featured onstage, there were also booths in the lobby staffed by a variety of Catholic groups. The Dioceses of Gallup and Pueblo each sponsored a vocations booth, alongside representatives from Lighthouse media, pro-life activist groups, and the Knights of Columbus. Even when they weren’t browsing the booths or participating in events, many youth groups made use of break time to pray the rosary or reflect together.
Anguis said that his goal, and the goal of the volunteers who worked hard to make the event a success, is to turn the conference into an anticipated yearly tradition.
“There appears to be a void we are filling in this region through the [conference],” he said. “We hope to keep the event going, and to continue to keep our ticket prices as low as possible so that all can attend regardless of their financial disposition.”
He also noted that the support from the community was crucial.
“We are very blessed to have local businesses and individuals willing to give towards the conference. They believe in what we are trying to accomplish here, and they financially sacrifice to help cover the expenses required to put on such a quality event…the volunteers that I have spoken with were blown away and very inspired by how many teens there were. A lot of them told me that they were honored to have been a part of the event, and that it gave them hope for the future of the Church.”
Finally, Anguis noted, he was grateful for the support of leaders within the Church.
“Bishop Wall is an amazing man. Seeing how the teens respond to him is so humbling. It is such an honor to know that he is not just willing, but actually wants to be a part of the conference.”
To support the Southwest Catholic Youth Conference, or to see a list of all who helped to contribute and support the event, visit swcyc.com. You can contact Dan Anguis with questions about the event at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about all that LifeGuard does to create a culture of life in the Four Corners region, please visit lifeguardlaplata.org