Emmanuel School of Mission Builds on World Youth Day's Success

VATICAN CITY — The unforgettable World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany, may be over, but its effects still linger.

Thanks to the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome, young Catholics can build on their World Youth Day experiences by joining a dynamic mission program in the heart of the Eternal City.

The school's nine-month program of missionary, spiritual and doctrinal formation is aimed at helping Catholics from 20 to 35 years old develop their talents and enable them to become missionaries on their home territory.

“It changed my life,” said Bobbie Anne Abson, 23, who was a student at the school last year. “I learned what freedom really meant and how, from being so close to the Lord, spending time with him and listening to him, my life could change.”

The course comprises “four pillars” of study and formation: The first focuses on spiritual, sacramental and prayer life, helping students learn to live for others, accept themselves, and learn to be attentive to the Holy Spirit. The second is on community life — a “24/7 program” of getting to know oneself and other cultures. The third is centered on intellectual formation, including study of the magisterium, Scripture, dialogue and encounter. The fourth prepares students for mission, teaching them how to evangelize.

This preparation includes trips abroad.

“It's a very deep experience,” said Father Thierry Quelquejay, the school's resident priest. “Being located in Rome, so close to the Holy Father, and through visiting the various congregations and other inspiring places in the city, the school helps to give young missionaries to the Church.”

The school is run by the Emmanuel Community, a Catholic association of lay people and consecrated men and women founded in 1976 by layman Pierre Goursat in Paris, France. It also has the firm backing of the Vatican.

“The Emmanuel School of Mission is a unique experience, for Rome carries a specific and rich meaning,” said Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the school's patron. “Being in Rome in a conscious way is a school in itself.”

Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, who was president of the Council for the Laity when the Emmanuel School of Mission began, believes the school answers a need for young people to become “youth leaders of our Church” in the face of “secularization, poverty, unemployment, loneliness and despair among the youth.”

The school, he said, provides a “unique opportunity” for young lay Catholics to “draw inspiration from the lives of the apostles and martyrs,” as well as bringing the students into contact with other missionaries.

Most of the students have already been active in their local church, but are looking to strengthen their faith during the program.

“I was a very active Catholic before I joined the school, but found [through the Emmanuel School of Mission] that I could still be more attentive and devout, learn how to be of service to others and to act out of love,” said Abson, who comes from Rochester, N.Y. “It made my faith much stronger.”

Community life was the “greatest joy and challenge” for Abson, through which she learned more about herself in everyday interactions with her fellow students.

“It was very formative, it really formed me as a person,” she said. “From study to prayer, socializing to evangelization, every part of me grew.”

However, the nine months were not without their challenges.

“Every student has a different experience, but for me there were a lot of struggles, a lot of days when I said to myself, ‘I have to get through this,’ and then I would take the next step,” she said. “But at the end of every day, there were a lot of wonderful things — it was the most challenging yet rewarding year at the same time.”

Many students return to their local parishes with renewed missionary vigor.

“We can see a personal transformation throughout the year and usually, at the end, the students want to serve the Church in a particular way,” said Father Quelquejay. “Some receive a call to a religious vocation or consider the priesthood, but that's not our goal. It's not so much to discern a vocation as to help the students become genuine missionaries in building a civilization of love.”

Father Quelquejay, who has been the school's rector for the past three years, said that the most important aspect of the course is to “deepen one's relationship with Christ and the Church.” From this, he added, “everything is given, all leads to that, and they will become missionaries automatically.”

One Australian former student spent seven months in Cologne helping with World Youth Day preparations, and now is preparing for the next event in Sydney in 2008. Others have gone to run pastoral youth offices or started teaching in Catholic schools, having previously taught in public ones.

The number of students in the school varies. This year, 10 men and 10 women have enrolled. They also come from all over the world: Three students were from the United States last year, and one each from Canada, Brazil, China, Indonesia and Australia. The remainder come from Europe.

The course runs Oct. 1-June 30, and the school advises students to apply in January. Course fees are about $850 per month for nine months. The cost includes food, accommodation and trips. To cover the costs, most students look for benefactors and sponsors to assist them.

“It's not too expensive when compared to a U.S. college year, and the school is committed to helping students to find the money,” said Abson.

And thanks to staff that is reputed to be “always available” and “dedicated to leading people to holiness,” it makes the course a particularly worthwhile investment.

“It's a great experience for the young adults,” Father Quelquejay said. “It's only one year away, but it's a year that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.


Emmanuel School of Mission