By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
When hundreds of young Catholics converge on Frisco this month, it will mark the much-anticipated return of a weekend of fellowship and faith sidelined since 2020 because of the pandemic.
The Dallas Catholic Youth Conference 2022 will be held Feb. 18-20 as an in-person event, welcoming high school students in grades nine through 12 to deepen their relationship with Jesus through speakers, praise and worship music, liturgies, fellowship, Reconciliation and Adoration.
The conference is coordinated by the Diocese of Dallas Office of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministries. COVID-19 concerns and safety guidelines kept the diocese from hosting it in 2021. The return of the conference as an in-person event this year is being celebrated by parish youth leaders.
“Young people need to know they are not alone in their faith,” said Neen Ponto, who is the youth group coordinator for St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Grand Prairie. “It is so important that they see other young people sharing their faith and living it out loud.”
Dee Gonzalez, director of high school ministry for St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney, agreed, adding that while virtual connections were a blessing during the pandemic, there is nothing like being together with a community of faith.
“Being together means that you are free from your normal distractions, and you must focus and give your time and attention to what is in front of you,” Gonzalez said. “Through our fellowship, we are inspired to live out our faith and reminded that we are not alone.”
Gonzalez said the conference offers an environment and opportunity for young people to celebrate their faith on a deeper level.
“The teens are taken from within their own parishes and exposed to youth from across the diocese and various schools who share the same beliefs,” she said. “Through the powerful prayer experiences, they encounter Christ, are given a sense of peace, and are ignited with a burning passion to worship and serve the Lord.”
Likewise, Ponto sees DCYC as a place where young people can truly embrace their faith and see other young people who are truly living, embracing and sharing their faith.
“I see so many young people going through the motions at church, getting their sacraments and attending Mass because their grandparents want them to — they are not really living their faith,” Ponto said. “With DCYC, they see that faith is more than just attending Mass. They may realize for the first time how their faith and love for God can really ‘fill them up.’ DCYC can take a little bit of faith and over a weekend transform it into something that can be life changing for these young people.”
Ponto has attended every Dallas Catholic Youth Conference since the diocese began hosting them in 2012. She encourages youth at her parish to be involved.
“In our youth group, we focus on faith, friendships, family and, of course, food — a must with young people. We do all this while serving our community,” Ponto said. “Every time we serve, we are leading by example. Serving at DCYC is just another way we serve.”
Gonzalez has attended DCYC three times prior as a group leader, making this year’s trip her fourth. She said the conference offers young people opportunities to help strengthen and deepen their faith.
“We often encourage the young people to hold on to one memory from DCYC that they can rely on especially during difficult times,” Gonzalez said. “Once they return to their parishes, the growth continues as they evangelize to others what they experienced at DCYC.”
Rafael “Jack” Gonzalez, III, a parishioner of St. Jude Catholic Church, has attended DCYC twice and will be returning this year as a volunteer. He said attending the conference taught him to let go and let God take control.
“This realization has impacted my life drastically because I trust that whenever anything goes wrong, it is for a reason. God has something bigger in store for me,” said Gonzalez, who now studies engineering at the University of Houston. “This event is fun, yet so dynamic in bringing others deeper into the faith.”
He added that the conference not only invites young adults to deepen their faith, but also provides them with a support system.
“Through DCYC, I’ve met what I’d like to consider lifelong friends. People who I know could help me in my faith whenever need be,” he said. “We are all on a journey together, trying to figure out how to be as close to God as possible. Even when we fail, I know that these guys will pray for and with me.”
Brienna Brown, a student at the University of Oklahoma and a parishioner of St. Michael the Archangel in Grand Prairie, credits DCYC with helping her embrace Catholicism as well as choosing to become a leader in her faith.
“DCYC gave me confidence in faith because at the conference you are surrounded by people who not only share your faith but truly want the best for you,” said Brown, who will join Gonzalez as a young adult volunteer this year.
While DCYC offers avenues for fellowship and faith, it also provides opportunities to shape future faith leaders. One way the conference does that is through its “A-Team” model, which provides opportunities for young people to be more involved in DCYC through leadership roles during the planning and implementation process.
Ponto said A-Team is a great opportunity for young people as they get to experience planning and facilitation of the conference. Those opportunities offer different levels of participation, she said.
“Animators are for extroverts who love to be in the spotlight; Acoustics for the musically talented; and Activators for those who want to be a part of the team but aren’t sure about being out front,” Ponto said. She added that while some young people may be hesitant at first to take on a leadership role, they soon come to embrace it. “It changes the way they look at themselves and maybe other young people. I think it gives them courage to live their faith outside of safe places like DCYC.”
Brown has attended DCYC twice before, both times serving on the A-Team as an Animator.
“The Animators stood up in a line by the stage and allowed the young people to come up to us and ask for prayer,” she said. “To this day, it still has such an effect on me because when those people came up to me and asked me to pray for them, it made me feel honored. The prayer was just a conversation with God, the other person and me.”
Young people leave DCYC understanding their role as a disciple of Christ and how it fits into their everyday life, according to Gonzalez.
“The various aspects of the conference challenge the young people to be a voice within their parish, schools, and communities teaching others what they have learned and encountered,” she said. “This is the start of creating leaders.”
For her part, Brown called DCYC more than just a conference; it’s faith in action.
“At DCYC, one can absolutely see and feel the Holy Spirit working,” she said. “This conference helps one to find love for their faith and to be proud of being Catholic.”
Editor’s Note: The Dallas Catholic Youth Conference is made possible through the Diocese of Dallas Bishop’s Annual Appeal. To learn more about DCYC, visit www.dcycdallas.com.