After the Youth Rally and the Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in New York, one young woman confessed, “Sometimes at home it seems like the Church is dying, but it’s not. It’s really coming alive. All those people came this weekend because they love our Pope and our Church.”
Pope Benedict not only brought us a message of hope. He was also a catalyst of hope for all those who saw the Church alive at St Joseph’s Seminary on April 19 or in the jam-packed Yankee Stadium on April 20.
“Hope is the thing with feathers,” said Emily Dickinson. It is something with wings, something that takes flight and carries us to new places. In our Catholic faith, hope and a sense of mission go hand in hand. When we have hope, we evangelize. And when we share the faith, we find our own faith renewed.
Amid all the bad news in the headlines, it’s easy to miss the signs of hope rising up from the grass roots. Take this year’s Holy Week, for example. About 50,000 Catholics worldwide set out on missions during Holy Week, going door to door in rural and urban areas, inviting people to come back to church, catechizing children, visiting the sick and sharing unforgettable moments of solidarity and prayer with people they would never ordinarily have met.
More than 2 million people in more than 3,000 communities worldwide were touched in some way by their efforts. This is the current scope of the Mission Youth program (called Juventud y Familia Misionera in Mexico).
Great things begin small, with people who dare to hope. The first missions were held in 1986 with about 100 young missionaries in Cotija, Mexico, who wanted to protect the people’s Catholic faith from an influx of sectarian religions. Since then, the mustard seed has branched out to 30 other countries in North America, Europe, and Asia.
This year, as always, Mexico had the largest number of Holy Week missionaries, with more than 22,000 participants, including a group of 200 American youth and families who spent the week evangelizing and building houses for needy families.
Approximately 1,350 American and Canadian youth and family members slept on church basement floors and walked door to door serving parish priests by inviting parishioners to participate in the Holy Week liturgies and activities.
For many of the missionaries going door to door in Calgary, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Sacramento, Denver, and Phoenix, the first conversion they saw was their own.
One young woman said, “I was raised Roman Catholic and went to private Catholic schools all my life. I have always known Christ, but after this experience, I now understand my faith. It became evident to me after the Last Supper Mass. I realized that Jesus was really going to die for me. How can I be so selfish and forget that? We forget so easily that he gave up his life for our salvation and understanding this gave me so much peace ... peace that I have been yearning for so long!”
These are the stories that don’t make headlines on earth, but that matter most in heaven. They are stories of ordinary people with their small and great conversions, people who find renewed joy from the sacrament of confession, youth who discover that their lives have a deep meaning for eternity, and that they can make a profound difference in someone else’s life. And then there is the joy that comes from giving.
Said one young man: “I felt happier than I have felt in a long time just spending a week with a bunch of my peers in an environment of prayer and joy.”
In the closing Mass of the Holy Week missions in Mexico on March 23, Father Alvaro Corcuera, general director of the Legion of Christ, mentioned in his homily how he visited the Pope for a private audience shortly before the missions. Pope Benedict asked Father Alvaro to convey his blessing to the Legionaries and Regnum Christi members, and especially to the Holy Week missionaries.
The Holy Father launched a challenge at Dunwoodie this spring. “Who bears witness to the Good News of Jesus on the streets of New York, in the troubled neighborhoods of large cities, in the places where the young gather, seeking someone in whom they can trust?” These men and women, boys and girls were responding in advance to that challenge. But they are not the only ones. Mission Youth (Youth4Missions.com) is just one of the many missionary adventures young people have available to them in the United States.
• NET, National Evangelization Teams (NETUSA.org), which puts together teams that travel 20,000 miles, serves 9 to 11 dioceses and facilitates close to 120 retreats reaching thousands of young people,
• Life Teen (LifeTeen.com), which offers camps, conferences and missionary opportunities,
• Compass (CollegeCompass.com) and Focus (FocusOnline.org), which offer opportunities for college-age evangelizers,
• REACH Youth Ministry (REACHym.com), which sends youth-adult retreat teams across North America leading youth retreats and evangelizing the young in the Catholic Church,
• Young Disciples Teams (FargoDiocese.org/youngdisciples) are an apostolate of Catholic young adults that travel from town to town to evangelize and catechize in rural communities and reservations, and
• Youth 2000 (Youth2000usa.org), which offers Eucharistic-centered retreats for young people.
“You are Christ’s disciples today,” the Pope told the youth at Dunwoodie. “Shine his light upon this great city and beyond. Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free. With these sentiments of great hope in you I bid you farewell, until we meet again in Sydney this July for World Youth Day!”
Hope is indeed the thing with feathers and wings to take us to new places.
Trish Bailey initially wrote about
Mission Youth for RegnumChristi.org.