During my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I met the extraordinary Missionaries of Villaregia in the Diocese of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Missionaries are a congregation of 16 men and women who minister to the spiritually and materially poor. They work particularly closely with at-risk youth and families in crisis by inviting them into a community of faith and teaching them what can be possible in life when love is at the heart of it. In any given year, they serve as many as 2,000 youths and hundreds of married couples.
The Missionaries and the local bishop have sought Catholic Extension’s support to build a missionary center that will enable them to significantly expand their ministry. My visit was intended to assess how Catholic Extension can help.
During my visit, I heard compelling stories from several young adults whose lives have been changed by the Missionaries and who now are part of this movement.
I met 24-year-old Alejandro. This law student explained that during his childhood, his parents left him. He overcame those turbulent years because the Catholic faith community, pastored by the Missionaries, became his family. It was in this community that he learned he was not alone in the world and that he, too, could be a mentor for others. Alejandro and his girlfriend, Maria, also a 24-year-old graduate student from the same parish, lead a faith-sharing group at their local university, where they read scripture and support their fellow students. On weekends, Maria and Alejandro still return to their parish to teach and mentor young children and teens.
Anna is 18-years-old. She is the direct result of the work of Alejandro and Maria at the missionary center, who have been mentoring her from a young age. She is also a new university student who is considering how she, too, can give back. She is even thinking about a vocation to religious life as a sister.
Raymond is 25-years-old and grew up in a home with a father that abused drugs and alcohol. This experience made life as a young person very difficult. One retreat, led by the Missionaries, changed his life forever. He realized that life was more than his own circumstances and learned what it meant to be loved by a family. Years later, he and his father reconciled with the help of the Missionaries. Raymond continues to do anything he can to support this life-changing ministry.
Jennifer is a 24-year-old from a Catholic family. As a teenager, she didn’t think much of herself or believe that she had much to offer the world. When she met the Missionaries of Villaregia, that all changed. Jennifer began to believe that God was calling her to do something special. Since that time, she’s discovered her sense of worth and feels ready to give back. She felt so strongly about this calling that she joined the Missionaries as a novice sister. Now in her second year, the future looks bright for Jennifer as she considers how to best live a life of service in the Church.
Maria Magdalena is a 21-year-old nursing student. She met the Missionaries as a late teen. They helped her realize that the most beautiful thing a person can do in life is to live it for others. She now helps by mentoring other young people. Tears filled her eyes as she pondered the new possibilities that new facility would bring to her ministry. “We are family and this is a house for everyone. People will come here to be fed,” she sobbed.
As these stories suggest, the Missionaries have touched the lives of many youths in the community. Their programs have become so successful that they’ve quickly outgrown their current facilities.
After 14 years of saving and two years of construction, the missionaries are just $800,000 short on cash for making the missionary center a reality. But, with just $300,000, they can finish the framing and dry wall and begin to use the center, which will accommodate as many as 900 people for gatherings and 200 overnight guests.
Fr. Roberto, who leads the Missionaries, believes that with such a strong foundation of young leaders, the new facility will be bustling with activity in no time. The only thing that stands in the way of this is a cash shortfall.
Stay tuned for Catholic Extension’s response.
— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management