What do you get when you blend together a group of college-age young adults, the New Evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II and a rigorous defense of life?

The Missionaries of the Eucharist, that’s what. 

For 10 weeks this summer, members of the group are taking the pro-life message to the streets — and preaching and teaching John Paul’s theology of the body as they go.

On June 3 in Augusta, Maine, 10 members began a 1,100-mile walk that zigzags through the major cities and small towns of 11 northeastern states. The trek finished in early August in Washington, D.C.

The idea for the walk began last November, when 70 young adults from various Catholic and secular colleges talked and prayed about the best way they could help the pro-life movement. Many had read or were reading John Paul II’s theology of the body.

“We found the teachings of the theology of the body are so rich,” says walk leader Patrick Yungwirth, a recent University of Maryland graduate who’s discerning a possible call to the priesthood as a Dominican. “It had an answer to the problem in that it presented a cure of the disease instead of just dealing with the symptoms.”

The Missionaries of the Eucharist formed in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 8, 2005, feast of the Immaculate Conception. That was appropriate, Yungwirth says, because this is a great feast of the theology of the body.

Preparations meant more than a new pair of walking shoes. The walk leader points out that a supportive (and, now, recently retired) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington offered the missionaries Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley as a spiritual adviser. And the group spent two weeks in training, partly with author and speaker Christopher West, who has specialized in theology of the body.

University of Maryland senior Lacy Howard sees the act of walking as part of the theology of the body because the group is bringing the Gospel to the world through their physical presence.

Meeting someone who’s walking to work and wants to know what we’re doing opens a conversation, she says, like with two girls waiting for the bus who trotted across the street to find out what was going on.

“We told them about theology of the body and gave them a brochure,” Lacy says. “With this little glimpse into Christ’s love and theology of the body, we’re planting the seeds and hoping Christ will use that to spread his Gospel.”

Body and Spirit

Like those girls, people everywhere can’t help but notice the walkers’ blue T-shirts emblazoned with a cross on the front and, on back, the message “Real Love Rejects Abortion.” And then there’s the crucifix they carry on the walk.

The latter “shows they have a passion and firm commitment to the Church, particularly to spread a message that’s not totally accepted by society,” says Father Richard O’Donnell of St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Johnsbury, Vt. “They want to touch as many lives as possible.”

“They’re meeting people they normally would not meet in the course of daily events,” adds the priest. “It’s an attractive and unique way to spread the message, and an amazing living witness to the Church and Christ.”

Example: When a man outside a gas station talked with two walkers, they didn’t hesitate to “clue him in.” The missionaries showed the stranger Christ through their actions and treated him in a dignified manner, says Yungwirth. They gave him a rosary and West’s book Theology of the Body for Beginners.

Maeve O’Doherty, a junior at The Catholic University of America, says she found it beautiful to watch the Holy Spirit at work, adding that it was clear God had “put us there for a reason.”

Not everybody reacts that way, of course. Every weekend the missionaries try to pray outside an abortion business. In Albany, N.Y., a couple of people unhappy with their presence hit one of the male missionaries with an apple.

Yungwirth’s direction? Pray for their souls. “That’s the best thing we can offer them right now,” he told the walkers.

Prayer is prime with the group, from the Angelus to the Rosary and chaplet of Divine Mercy.

“Everything becomes a prayer,” says Vicki James of Ringwood, N.J., who’s hoping to attend Franciscan University. “People cursing at us becomes an opportunity to pray for them. For everything that happens, we pray a Hail Mary for that person. If we walk on streets and people seem open to theology of the body, we pray before we talk.”
“Every time we get in the van,” she adds, “we pray the Memorare, guardian angel prayer, the St. Gertrude prayer, and three Hail Marys — one for discernment of our vocations, one for unity in the group, one to understand the theology of the body and pass it on.”

Sidewalk Disciples

“The prayerfulness they demonstrate is remarkable,” says Father William Ventura at St. John the Evangelist Church in North Chelmsford, Mass., who marvels at their joyfulness and zeal. “You can almost feel the Spirit moving in them.”

He found that, in spite of their hectic schedule, they pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. When he drove with them to a restaurant, he was moved by their regular prayers, including a litany and prayer to St. Michael.

“Whenever they drive by businesses of ill repute, they’re praying for the people there, those affected by it, those who work there,” says Father Ventura. “Driving by cemeteries, they’re praying for the dead. If anyone honks, they’re praying for them. They’re demonstrating their zealous love through these little acts of faith and prayer.”

People notice. North Carolina State University graduate student Phil Koshute of Beaver, Pa., won’t forget the woman who pulled over in a minivan when she saw the crucifix. She ended up giving the missionaries a $10 bill.

Koshute asked her if they could pray for her. “You can pray for my husband,” he remembers her asking. “He lost his job today and isn’t sure what to do. The $10 was the last money we had with us. He told me we were nuts, but I thought we have to support you people.”

Of course, as Missionaries of the Eucharist, the group believes its mission relies on daily Mass together. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, they want to reciprocate by pouring themselves out on the streets.

In committing a summer to Christ, says Koshute, “we hope to be visible signs of the invisible reality of God’s love.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from

Trumbull, Connecticut.

Information

Missionaries of the Eucharist

missionariesoftheeucharist.org

(202) 487-3120