Turnout at Hispanic youth conference opens eyes to budding ministry

More than 900 young people gather for fellowship, faith at UDM

Auxiliary Bishop, Arturo Cepeda speaks to young people during Mass at the Hispanic Youth Conference. Photos by Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

Auxiliary Bishop, Arturo Cepeda speaks to young people during Mass at the Hispanic Youth Conference.
Photos by Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

Detroit — In one moment, hundreds of young people were jumping wildly, swinging their arms and clapping along to contemporary Christian music; in the next, they were kneeling silently in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Such was the scene at the Archdiocese of Detroit’s second Hispanic Youth Conference on March 5, in which more than 900 youths packed into the fitness center at the University of Detroit Mercy for a day of fun, faith and inspiration.

During the daylong Spanish-language conference, young people listened to speakers, went to confession, played games and sang worship hymns with their peers from all corners of the archdiocese. Auxiliary Bishop Arturo Cepeda celebrated Mass at the conference’s conclusion.

“This day and age for the youth is very difficult. Society is telling them this and that is what you need to be happy. They’re bombarded, but it really doesn’t make them happy, so they create barriers,” said Luis Pena, a speaker from the New York-based apostolate Corazón Puro (“Pure of Heart”), who used his personal testimony to connect with the youth about what it means to be faithful to God in an age of temptation.

“I noticed that after our talks, you could see the line to confession get a little bit bigger,” Pena laughed. “You know that even though they might not get it perfect, even though they might not be the best Catholic, they will try. It’s the most beautiful thing to see them participate.”

Eleventh-grader Esmeralda Romero said she heard “a lot of great advice” at the conference, such as that “God expects us to let ourselves be loved by Him.”

“It’s a great lesson,” Romero said. “A lot of people think that He expects really big things.”

Lili Flores, another speaker from the Diocese of Las Vegas, Nev., said Pope Francis’ emphasis on the youth should inspire more opportunities to involve young people in the life of the Church.

“There’s so much that Pope Francis is giving to us,” Flores said. “Yes, the youth are within our Church, but they lack ministries. We still haven’t found that something specific for them.”

The outreach to Hispanic young people in particular is long overdue, said Ezequiel Colon, youth ministry director at St. Christopher-St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Detroit, where the inaugural Hispanic Youth Conference was held in 2015.

“I wouldn’t even say these kids are the future of the Church; they’re the present in the Church,” Colon said. “They’re active. If we’re going to talk about the future, the Hispanic family, even though many families are struggling, they teach their kids faith. They teach their kids to go to Mass, to be active in Church. They’re willing to bring them.”

Colon noted many Hispanic youths volunteer as lectors, altar servers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and are passionate about sharing their faith with their friends.

Young people pose for a photo during the Hispanic Youth Conference at the University of Detroit Mercy on March 5. More than 900 Hispanic young people from across the Archdiocese of Detroit attended the daylong Spanish-language gathering for fellowship and faith building. Photos by Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

Young people pose for a photo during the Hispanic Youth Conference at the University of Detroit Mercy on March 5. More than 900 Hispanic young people from across the Archdiocese of Detroit attended the daylong Spanish-language gathering for fellowship and faith building.
Photos by Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic

“If each of these 1,000 kids evangelize young people out there, our Church is going to grow, not only the Hispanics, but the whole Church,” Colon said.

Part of ensuring Hispanic young people continue to be active in their faith after graduation is to ensure the Church continues to reach out to them, said Marco Roque, a volunteer with Jornada, a Hispanic young adult group in Detroit.

Roque and other volunteers from Jornada, which means “Journey” in English, were on hand to assist at the conference and to sign up participants for summer and fall retreats.

“Seeing these guys, they come here together and participate. The problem is, after this they can’t find anything to keep working on,” Roque said. “They like the conference, but they can’t share that with other people from their school. So what we’re doing is trying to keep these guys close to each other.”

Fr. Chris Talbot, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi-St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish in Ray Township whose parish includes a large number of Hispanics, said the turnout at the conference shows “just the tip of the iceberg” for Hispanic ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“It’s the fastest-growing demographic in all of the United States, and it represents 40 percent of our Catholic Church in the United States,” Fr. Talbot said. “Within 5-10 years, it will be the majority of our Catholic Church, and ministry in general will be Hispanic ministry.”

Fr. Talbot said it’s important to tailor ministries specifically for young Hispanics, who often feel more isolated than their peers in many instances.

“Not only do they feel alone in their faith, they might be the only Latino in the school they’re going to, and sometimes they’re isolated because of their language skills and many other issues,” Fr. Talbot said. “To bring them together to experience the strength of them as Church is an awesome experience.”