National Catholic Register

Education

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 11:00 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 Ethiopia with about 20 other students. They’ll work alongside the Missionaries of Charity in the capital of Addis Ababa. Some will generously pitch in for a month. Others, like Martel, will stay on even beyond that.

“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 Russia and participated in trips to Ecuador and Mexico.

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 United States as well — Martel is quick to point out that the Ethiopia trip is student-initiated. The school can sponsor only so many missions a year, she explains.

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 Ethiopia is Catholic.”

Action in the Americas

From St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., junior Kara Shirley will head to the Dominican Republic for the second half of July through a college-approved grant. She’ll be part of the Fellowship of Associates of Medical Evangelism (Fame) an ecumenical Christian group, to spread the Good News through a combination of medical services and evangelism.

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 Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., is heading to New Orleans to assist with ongoing hurricane-relief efforts.

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.

New Orleans is not in the news anymore and a lot of people are forgetting about it,” Dara says of her decision. Since she likes manual labor, gutting houses and clearing debris will be no problem. But she wants to bring the people something more —something she finds in the project’s title.

“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.”

Her New Orleans mission work is the springboard for future plans: In October, she’s joining the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Co-Conversions

Heading to Ocean Beach, Calif., Steubenville junior Cassie Cleaton and her brother, freshman Jamie Cleaton, will work with youth ministry in their home parish of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and its Sacred Heart Academy. She and Jamie are to join with the parish’s new youth minister.

After running a highly successful retreat with two other Steubenville students for Sacred Heart eighth graders earlier this year, the Cleatons see a tremendous need to reach out spiritually to the youngsters.

“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

Trumbull, Connecticut.