ConQuest and Challenge Clubs
Youth programs of the Legionaries of Christ are operated by an organization called ECYD. Although the Legion has claimed on its English language websites that this stands for Education, Culture and Youth Development, its initials were actually derived from Spanish and stand for Educación Cultura y Deporte (Education, Culture and Sport). ECYD operates a series of clubs and activities for youths which are staffed by Regnum Christi members. It has been described as a sort of Regnum Christi for children with similar forms of spiritual guidance and a similarly heavy emphasis on recruitment. For example, by statute, each club is to have a person on staff in charge recruitment. Like Regnum Christi, it is both an organization which actively runs religious programs as well as an organization which one can join as a member.
Two franchises of ECYD youth clubs which the Legion operates in North America are known as ConQuest Clubs and Challenge Clubs. According to the club’s official website ConQuest is a “national network of leadership programs, clubs, and camps for boys and young men 5 to 16 years of age.” It adds, “ConQuest trains boys to become self-disciplined and confident young men, Catholic leaders who possess moral integrity and are committed to improving the communities in which they live.” Challenge is the female equivalent of ConQuest.
Both have the hallmarks ECYD clubs and are clearly associated with that organization, though the actual connection is somewhat murky and confusing. A now defunct Legionary webpage identified them as being affiliated with ECYD, but the Legion now seems to be playing down that connection — at least in North America. The current ConQuest website states in small type at the bottom that “ConQuest is a proud affiliate of Mission Network” and that it is “Sponsored by Regnum Christi.” A link to another site states, “Mission Network is an organization within Regnum Christi that was created to coordinate efforts and optimize the resources of Regnum Christi programs and apostolic works in order to reach more people and more places, with new methods and new ardor.”
An older website stated, “ConQuest clubs and camps operate as members of CYWN (Catholic Youth World Network) in the United States and Canada.” The site described CYWN as “a worldwide network of Catholic youth that work in clubs in cities throughout the world to build a new world based on Christ’s values” and described ECYD instead as “a program of formation” which the clubs employ.
ConQuest operates programs for three different age groups. The Father and Son Program is for ages five to seven, the ConQuest Junior Program for ages eight to ten, and the ConQuest Club for ages eleven to sixteen. A former consecrated member of Regnum Christi describes ECYD, and the ConQuest and Challenge clubs as follows:
“People don’t just hop into ECYD. First they are recruited through one of the established means of recruitment, such as Challenge and ConQuest. While most youth groups combine girls and boys, in Regnum Christi they are done separately to force the vocation issue. Challenge is, in short, a means of recruitment to ECYD. They keep track of how many girls they recruit. This is the ideal ECYD/club combination, although in different places you will find different levels of adherence to it. Sometimes the girls know about ECYD in the club, and sometimes the club girls have never heard of ECYD. Sometimes they think the club is ECYD. What is important to the consecrated women that coordinate the groups is that there are numbers incorporating to ECYD.”
Parents who are approached about allowing their children to participate in ConQuest or Challenge club activities have often not been aware of the connection to the Legionaries of Christ or even, for that matter, of the order’s existence. Some actually believed the clubs to be a diocesan sponsored activity. A former employee of the Archdiocese of Atlanta describes such a situation:
“We had quite a difficult time with Regnum Christi and the upsurge of their ‘clubs’ in many parishes in Atlanta. They would show up in the parish. People would come and ask about them, thinking we knew all about them, and we would have no information. They would get permission from a pastor and just carry on, many times having their meetings off campus in homes. When they began Challenge, the education commission asked for information as to who exactly they were, what information were they giving the children, where they got it and (asked to) review the materials. All they would say was that it was material approved by the magesterium of the Church! Of course, all requests were refused (as though it were) none of our business. Some of the parents became upset because they were not privy to any of the information either, and the stories the children repeated about their sessions would raise eyebrows.”
Among the loftier stated goals of ECYD and its clubs is to serve as “an international organization of children and adolescents in alliance with Christ and themselves to build a new world.” Marcial Maciel has described it in plainer terms; he calls ECYD “an open means of recruitment.” The group’s ultimate goal is to convince children to “incorporate” or join the larger Regnum Christ movement or the Legionaries of Christ.
Recruitment is achieved by what the Legion refers to as “cellular action” and through open means of recruitment, whose possibilities it considers to be practically limitless. Members are encouraged to carry out this work on “with enthusiasm and discretion.” Given that the vigor and continual strengthening of the adolescent sections of Regnum Christi depend to a great extent on the growth and expansion of ECYD, the Legion considers the “apostolic work” of ECYD to be one of its principal activities and encourages its members to dedicate themselves to it “with interest, energy and perserverance.”
“Apostolic work” is a euphemism for recruitment. In Challenge the ultimate goal is to convince girls to become “consecrated women” — lay women of Regnum Christi who take vows similar to those of a nun, but who do not enjoy the protections canon law provides to nuns. A former consecrated woman writes, “Challenge is a club to recruit people to ECYD, to suck young children into a vocation before their critical faculties are developed enough to discern correctly.” In ConQuest the goal is similar: to convince boys to become Legionary priests. This is done through a series of activities and retreats from which parents are often excluded. ”If you were to ever ask if you can attend the retreats or camps along with your daughter,” writes one parent, “don’t be surprised if the answer is a gentle, but firm ‘no.’”
One mother writes, “The Challenge club was pitched to the parents as a wholesome alternative to scouts. I assumed it was just nice kids getting together after school for activities. This is true, in part, but they target these kids to attend retreats at which they can ‘consecrate’ themselves to the movement and become (members of) Regnum Christi. My child never wanted to attend, but did say that the consecrated ladies made her feel guilty for saying she didn’t want to go.”
At these retreats children can be convinced to make lifelong commitments without their parents’ knowledge. They are even told to withhold such information from their parents. Another mother writes, “I have personally known mothers who have become outraged that their daughters ‘incorporated’ into the Challenge ‘movement’ without getting permission from the parents. In these cases, daughters from three different families felt guilty and confessed to their parents that the consecrated women told them it was their decision to make and their’s alone. They were also told that it was better not to discuss this with their parents until after they had made their own decisions.”
Age is not an impediment to recruitment efforts. A mother allowed her son to attend ConQuest activities at a neighbor’s house, which he seemed to enjoy, until he suddenly told her one day that he no longer wanted to participate. He said he was being made to feel guilty for not wanting to be a priest. He was nine years old at the time.
Recruitment is a carefully planned process. As in Regnum Christi, ECYD recruitment happens is stages, going successively from kindness to friendship, from friendship to confidence, from confidence to conviction, from conviction to submission. These stages are also sometimes referred to as interest, friendship, trust, commitment and surrender. The intended target is not aware that he or she is being recruited, only that a friendship seems to be forming and that someone is showing a personal interest in him or her. A former Regnum Christi member described the corrosive effect this had on her view of friendships: “These steps were so ingrained in me that I honestly learned not to have ‘relationships,’ but instead, to recruit, using the relationship to recruit members. Even when I started therapy, my first reaction was to recruit rather than to open up completely.”
In these clubs the children themselves are used as instruments of recruitment. Parents of former ConQuest members report that older boys are taught to recruit younger boys. In Challenge clubs girls with qualities which are deemed to be useful are actively courted, often at the expense of others. Former consecrated women often speak of favoritism being shown to certain girls, those whose personalities might attract others into the movement. One former member writes, “I remember in Mexico, if there was a girl in the school or in ECYD who was particularly interesting, or had a lot of qualities the consecrated looked for, she was called ‘una bomba’ (‘es una bomba’ — she is a bomb), and the girls who weren’t very enthusiastic or didn’t have a very dynamic personality or abundant qualities were called ‘papas’ (‘es una papa’ — she’s a potato). So the bombas were very sought after for incorporation, and the papas. . . well, if they didn’t even come to retreats, that was O.K.”
Not all parents are bothered by this. Those who are members of Regnum Christi are often actually flattered when attention is lavished on one of their daughters, as one mother whose child is no longer active in Challenge describes it: “I did attend the first retreat my daughter went on and it all seemed O.K. When she ‘incorporated,’ I was called for permission but it was explained to me that this is just to show commitment to following Christ. It’s just that lately they seem to be focusing on a few girls and ‘grooming’ them (for lack of a better word) to be leaders once they reach high school. And the moms of those girls don’t seem to have any problem with the attention being focused them — they think it is wonderful. And the uneasy feeling I have lingers on.”
Disclaimer: ReGAIN and this site are neither endorsed by, nor sponsored by, nor affiliated with the Catholic congregation of priests and religious with the names Legion of Christ, and Legionaries of Christ, nor with the group called Regnum Christi.