Summer in the Mission Fields
Catholic college students forsake vacation for evangelization
BY JOSEPH PRONECHEN
June 11-17, 2006 Issue | Posted 6/12/06 at 10:00 AM
Ask most college students how they plan to spend their summer and, nine times out of 10, you’ll hear about sun, sand and earning some spending cash to enjoy the free time.
But for some Catholic undergraduates and recent grads, summer means an extended chance to bring Christ to the world through evangelization, catechesis and corporal acts of mercy.
Take Heather Martel, who graduated May 13 from
Franciscan University of Steubenville. She’s now preparing to head to
“We’re offering the beginning of our life in the real world to God,” she says.
Martel describes this particular effort as a medical mission trip. With AIDS rampant, they’ll be doing hospice ministry and working with orphans. She’s hoping to add pro-life ministry, too, giving chastity talks.
“And a lot of street ministry offering conversation, a hug, a word of comfort or encouragement,” adds Heather, a social work and theology major. “We’re going over there with hearts that are willing to serve, whether by scrubbing toilets, helping someone in the last moments of life or offering a word of kindness.”
Martel is no stranger to mission work in faraway
places. She’s led a mission to
As president of the university’s Franciscan
Missionaries of Peace, a campus club that sponsors such journeys — not only in
foreign lands but in the
Martel says sharing the Catholic faith is a major goal of the trips. Meanwhile it’s clear that the opportunity to do so is a powerful motivator.
Martel stresses the importance of having access to
the sacraments every day. A priest will go along so the mission participants
can also offer “Born in the Spirit” retreats and Masses in places not having
them regularly — “whatever we feel the Holy Spirit is calling us to,” she says.
“We also want to build up the Catholic Church there because less than 1% of
Action in the
A biology major aiming to become an optometrist, Kara will work alongside doctors treating the poor and stay with a host missionary church.
“It’s not all medical,” Shirley says of the mission’s goals. She’s looking forward just as much to applying everything she’s learned while being immersed in the culture of a Catholic institution. She’ll use that experience, for example, to teach in a children’s Bible school.
Closer to home, Dara Vishnefske, who just graduated from
After friends told her about their missionary work on their Christmas and spring breaks with the Catholic World Mission and Youth for the Third Millennium’s “Mission Hope,” Dara wanted to join the group of Benedictine students when they return in June. They’ll be assigned to a Catholic parish whose priest will link them to people in greatest need.
“Mission Hope is the perfect name,” she says. As far as Mission Hope’s goals of sharing the Catholic faith, Dara hopes the four years she spent in a solid Catholic-college community will enable her to “show people there what it is to be young and enthusiastic and Catholic.”
After running a highly successful retreat with two
“Doing the retreat, I felt a hunger in their lives,” says Jamie. “At the end of the retreat, they finally got it that Jesus could be real in their lives, especially in the Catholic Church.”
“They are the future of our Church,” says Cassie, an education major, who explains a chief aim is to have Eucharistic adoration for the students, and for the other junior-senior high youth they hope to work with.
“We would love to see a weekly holy hour with the kids,” she explains. It would build on the big breakthrough at the three-day retreat.
It didn’t seem like things were getting through to the youngsters until the last night and adoration, explains Jamie. “We just presented Jesus in front of them for two hours,” he says. “They didn’t want to leave. That’s what I hope to bring over the summer [so] their whole Catholic faith falls together and the whole Mass means something.”
They initially hesitated. But, explains Cassie, despite some kids not know what adoration was or first thinking Jesus only a symbol, they explained the Real Presence. Result? Two hours of silence and prayer.
“These kids really hungry,” says Cassie. “They’re going to be a great sparkplug to get others excited for this.”
Active in their charismatic community, the Cleatons plan on praise and worship holy hours with music, too.
For this summer’s work, Jamie, a catechetics and theology major who plans to be a youth minister unless he’s called to the priesthood, wants to praise the Lord with the kids, eat hamburgers with them, go to Mass with them, help them see Jesus working in their lives though the sacraments.
Brother and sister believe this summer work will have far-reaching benefits for the kids — and themselves.
“By ministering to these kids I’m ministering to myself,” says Cassie. “It brings me to greater conversion.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from
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