NEW YORK — Two young Canadian women are working at the Vatican mission to the United Nations in an internship program that lets young adult Catholics not only see the Church's contribution in the international arena but become a part of it.

Julianne Rawson, 28, said in a recent interview at the mission in New York that she was on the staff working with Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, national director of World Youth Day 2002, when in February “he not so much asked me as told me that this internship was what I would be doing next.”

A 1997 graduate of the University of Toronto, she had known previous interns and learned from them that the internship, which began Sept. 9, was an “intense but rewarding” experience.

“It will be fascinating to learn how the Church represents itself diplomatically on an international level,” she said. “It's already been an eye-opener.”

Julie Korol, 24, also worked on the World Youth Day staff after her graduation in 2001 but said Father Rosica asked her to start planning for the U.N. internship when she was still just a secondyear student at the University of Toronto and he was director of its Newman Center.

“This is a tremendous honor,” she said. “I'm excited about being a part of the Church's voice at the U.N.”

Church teaching can have a positive effect on the kind of issues the United Nations handles, she said.

In a telephone interview from Toronto, Father Rosica said the intern idea originated in 1995, when he brought Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican's U.N. nuncio, to the Newman Center for a lecture on “The Holy See in the International Arena.”

During an informal session with a group of students afterward, some told the nuncio they would like to work with the Church in that kind of activity, Father Rosica told CNS.

“Archbishop Martino turned to me and told me to do something,” he said.

The first interns were Kishore Jayabalan, a U.S. citizen who went to Toronto to study, and then Larissa Gray, a Canadian from the Diocese of Peter-borough.

Initially the internship is for one year but can be extended. The first interns proved their worth and wanted to continue, so their service was extended.

After that Jayabalan remained interested in working with the Church and went to Rome to join the staff of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Gray returned to Canada to take a major staff position with Father Rosica preparing for World Youth Day and handling follow-up.

As their successors, Father Rosica selected Larissa Gray's brother, Rhys Gray, and another Canadian, Marisa de Souza. They also served beyond the initial year.

Father Rosica said in the interview he was to spend a few more months winding up his work for World Youth Day, held July 23-28 in Toronto, but expected his order would assign him to a chaplaincy at another university. There, he said, he would continue to find outstanding young people for the internship program.

“It's a unique and wonderful opportunity for young adults to serve the Church,” he said.

Father Rosica said he received funding for the program from two philanthropists — Fred Hill of Regina, Saskatchewan, and Dominique de Menil, a Houston resident, now deceased, who with her husband was known for founding the Rothko Chapel there. Money also came from an agency of his order and other contributors, he said.

In New York, support is provided by the Path to Peace Foundation, an agency established by Archbishop Martino to carry out projects that are related to the U.N. mission's work but are not included in its budget.

Archbishop Martino said the Vatican Secretariat of State approved the internship program without raising any objections, and the Canadian bishops gave “enthusiastic approval” when he told them about it.

“The benefits are multifaceted,” he said. “In the first place, it gives international experience to young Catholics and enables them to gain an appreciation of the Church's work in the international arena.”

Put into situations where they deal with ambassadors and other senior personnel, they get a “crash formation” course in the Church's diplomatic work, he said.

But the nuncio said the interns also helped the mission by carrying out all the various activities connected with staying abreast of U.N. work and making the Church's views known.

“They participate in our staff meetings on an equal basis, and they are assigned all sorts of other tasks,” he said.

The interns sometimes have delivered statements at the United Nations, which gives them the rare opportunity as young adults to speak to representatives of the entire international community on behalf of the whole Church.

At times, they have been sent abroad to serve on Vatican delegations to international conferences.

Archbishop Martino said he has received requests from other schools to arrange internships for their students and has taken a few on a shortterm basis.

The program will be expanded if more funds can be found, he said.