An Invitation to Gather: OSU Campus Ministry

We arrived at St. John the Evangelist University Parish and Newman Center, at Oklahoma State University, at 8AM. OSU has had a relationship with Catholic Extension since 1977; and this coming January, the OSU Campus Ministry will be receiving another grant from Catholic Extension. But we were also eager to meet these dynamic college students to see if we could connect them with leadership roles in the Church after graduation.

Our plan was to meet with Fr. Stuart Crevcoure and some of his campus ministry staff, as well as some of the college students who are active in campus ministry at OSU. I had my doubts as to how many students would show up for an 8AM meeting! Remembering my own college days, anything before 9AM was considered to be the crack of dawn.

Fr. Stuart Crevcoure and Fr. Jack Wall, with some of the students who are active in Campus Ministry at OSU.

Yet when we arrived, there were 15 college students already there! Not only were they awake, but they were smiling and eager to welcome us. Just their presence at that breakfast meeting was a witness to how important their Catholic faith is to them. Yet as we listened to their stories, we were even more moved by their passion for their faith and their desire to share their faith with other students at OSU.

The Newman Center sponsors a vast number of opportunities for faith sharing and fellowship: they have Bible Study, Rosary, Wednesday night Mass, and Praise and Worship to name a few. But what’s more incredible is the number of students who come every Sunday night for Mass, followed by dinner. They told us that a couple hundred students show up every week and that number grows during the school year! Many of the students who come aren’t even Catholic but have been invited by friends.

That’s what ran through all of the students’ stories about how they got involved with Campus Ministry at OSU – someone had invited them. Michael, a freshman from Wichita, said, “When I started here a few weeks ago, Anna, who is also from my home town, invited me to come along to Mass and so I did.” Many of the students credited Jenny, a senior, as having called them and asked them to come with her to Mass. To be invited, to be called by name, is so important to all of us, but it’s crucial for young adults. They need to feel welcomed, that their being there matters. It starts with being in relationship with others, making a friend, and then inviting that friend to come share in the faith that you have found. That was the model Jesus gave us, and these students are still following it. Every student there credited another student with getting them involved in Campus Ministry. Many students also mentioned Kelly, a former seminarian who is now ordained, as the reason they are so active in their faith.

Jenny and other students active in Campus Ministry at OSU.

A lot of the students told us about growing up in rural parts of Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas, where they were a part of the only Catholic family in town. I’m from the Northeast, where there are large numbers of Catholics, so it was foreign to me to imagine what it would be like to grow up in the minority, in a place where you weren’t invited to certain events because you were Catholic. But what struck me was that it was that experience of being in the minority that made these young Catholic men and women stronger in their faith, more articulate about what they believe in, more eager to be in community with others who shared their faith. They even volunteered to staff an “Ask a Catholic” table outside the student center at OSU, so that they could invite other students to learn about their faith.

Andrew received his Confirmation while attending OSU this year.

Many people talk about the young people being the future of our church. But in reality, they are the church. Right here, right now. It is up to us to do whatever we can to help support young adults like these students at OSU, so that they can grow in their faith while they are in college; and so that they are able to continue to grow in their faith after graduation, as young adults. Fr. Stuart pointed out to us a large tree that they had painted on their wall, with paper leaves attached to it. Each leaf had the name of a student who had been baptized or confirmed over the past year. Through Catholic Extension, we can help the number of leaves on that tree grow, at OSU and at other colleges across the country.

— Terry Witherell, National Representative for Strategic Initiatives, Catholic Extension

Young Adult Leadership Summit Refection

Recently, I had the privilege of facilitating small group breakout sessions at the Catholic Extension Leadership Summit, which convened 23 young adult Catholics from mission dioceses that receive support from Catholic Extension.

During my preparation, I focused on what my team could get out of the experience. Little did I know that I, too, would be touched in a spiritual way. These young adults are inspiring in their ministries. They are mature, living examples of the Catholic Church.  One of my small group members, Liliana, spoke of how she taught a little boy the meaning of the rosary.  Witnessing him say the prayer aloud at his First Holy Communion impacted Liliana’s life and inspires her to continue educating children throughout the Diocese of Stockton. Isn’t it coincidental how we both found inspiration in a younger generation?

Leadership Summit attendees discuss ways to strengthen the church.

The two and a half days ended with hope… hope for the future of young adults in the church. Our youth are the future, and these young leaders will help inspire a new generation of spirituality and faith formation. Catholic Extension is looking forward to walking with them on this journey and providing the financial support to continue building faith communities across the United States. Thank you to all those who participated and shared stories. You inspire me!

Virginia Sara, Assistant Director of Development

Young Adult Leadership Summit

“From all the ‘corners’ of the Earth we gathered, and hearts and minds met.”

Those simple words sum up the experience of one young adult Catholic who attended Catholic Extension’s first-ever Young Adult Leadership Summit.  The Summit, held in Chicago in late July, drew young adult Catholic leaders from 20 dioceses.

They came from California, Texas, Wyoming, The U.S. Virgin Islands, Montana, Ohio, Mississippi, New Mexico, Kentucky, Puerto Rico and Virginia – bright shining faces eager to talk about their Catholic faith.  They were invited to the Summit because of their proven extraordinary commitment to their diocese and communities through leadership and ministry service.

For some, this was their first plane ride or their first trip to a big city. For many, it was also a first chance to meet fellow young adult Catholics with a similar mission – to engage their peers in becoming active leaders and participants in the next generation of the Catholic Church.

Christian Jokinen presenting at the Leadership Summit.

One participant, Christian Jokinen of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has taken on enormous responsibility as a young adult to help build community and faith at his parish. He selflessly volunteers for 30 hours a week in multiple roles. He serves as a Eucharistic minister, teaches pre-Confirmation classes, trains altar servers, coordinates religious education and more. “Wherever they call me is where I end up going—it keeps me busy,” he said. “It’s a lot of time, but it’s fun.”

For Ana Hernandez of Monterey, California, another Summit participant, ministry to young adults and youth is a family activity. “We’re working together – my dad, mom, younger brother and I are all involved in the youth group,” she said of her family’s work at their parish.

“We want to tap into the energy and enthusiasm that young adults have demonstrated for the Church, for the service of others and for the faith,” said Joe Boland, senior director of Grants Management for Catholic Extension, who led the Summit activities. “They are here to help us understand and discover how we can multiply that energy and enthusiasm beyond this group of dedicated young leaders into the greater community of young adult Catholics across the country.”

Attendees meeting for small group discussions. Left to right: Maggie Warner, Samuel Bugueno, Ana Hernandez and Jermain Wair.

Through workshops, presentations, small-group discussions, faith-sharing sessions and even some social activities, Catholic Extension invited these young adult leaders to share their feelings about their faith, goals for their ministries and ideas for the church.

“Everywhere we go, we are inspired by the young leaders we encounter who are the bright light of the future of the Church in their diocese,” said Fr. Jack Wall, President of Catholic Extension. “Many of these young people lack financial resources for their ministries; however, their genuine faith and conviction are moving them to do great things.  We thought it would be very powerful to bring these young leaders together, to learn what inspires and motivates them and to see how Catholic Extension can support them in their efforts.”

Even though the Summit wrapped up just a short time ago, Catholic Extension has heard that the ideas the young adult leaders gathered from the event have already inspired them to take action. Upon returning to her hometown, Ana Hernandez sent the following note to her deacon: “It was an awesome experience. Now I think I’m in the wrong Major. Now I want to study Theology.” Another participant, Marsha Howe from the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was so moved that she has met with several local diocesan priests to share her experience. She also met with local youth group leaders to create a youth leadership program to ensure the participation in the faith from young Catholics on each of the different islands.

Attendees after celebrating Mass at St. James Chapel in Chicago, IL.

“Catholic Extension is committed to building a network of young Catholic leaders,” Fr. Wall added.  “We were blessed to have this opportunity to come together to share ideas that will ultimately strengthen the Church’s outreach to young adults.”

Catholic Extension provides grants to dioceses throughout the United States to empower Catholic communities by funding a variety of building projects and ministries and investing in lay, religious and ordained Catholic leaders. Last year it supported youth ministries with more than $2 million in grants exclusively in underserved or under-resourced dioceses.

Catholic Extension

The True Jewels of the Diocese

One of the most common questions we are hear from Catholic leaders across the United States is “how can we keep our young people involved and excited about the Church?”  Parishes and dioceses alike are focusing on building youth ministry programs geared to providing youth with spiritual and personal growth alongside Jesus and in their faith communities.  On a recent trip to the Diocese of Helena, I was able to witness a robust youth ministry program that is “connecting the dots” between the parish, diocese and universal Church.

Entrance to "the jewel of the diocese," Legendary Lodge.

Our first stop, often referred to by locals as “the jewel of the diocese,” was Legendary Lodge.  Legendary Lodge is a beautiful campground located on a pristine river valley nestled between seemingly mile-high Montana mountains.  Each summer, nearly 900 youth from the Diocese of Helena travel to the campsite for a unique Catholic experience, unrivaled by most.  The camp is run all summer long with week-long sessions divided by age group.  “It’s a family tradition—many campers have been coming for nine years, just as their siblings did,” said Dan Bartleson, Seasonal Director of Legendary Lodge.

As we were ferried across the river by the head camp cook, sounds of high-school students laughing echoed through the trees.  The evening’s main activity was a game in which camp counselors assumed the personas of characters from various fairy tales, each exemplifying specific virtues and vices.  Campers raced around the grounds in teams working to identify each virtue or vice and complete a task designed to build teamwork.  In fact, this summer’s theme for all Legendary Lodge camp sessions is “virtues,” and the kids love learning about them, no matter what their age.

Legendary Lodge counselors use activities to teach about the virtues.

While the sun set behind the mountains, a campfire was carefully lit by the water’s edge.  Bleachers circled the fire pit and were quickly filled with campers excitedly laughing and talking amongst themselves.  Each night, a camp counselor tells an interesting story or a testimony about their personal faith.  After a few ice-breaking campfire songs, we learned it was Oliver’s night to share his faith testimony, and everyone hushed to listen.

Legendary Lodge Campers

Oliver explained his personal journey and ultimate decision to attend seminary school in the fall at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.  He said that he felt a natural calling to the priesthood during his youth, but “didn’t have friends interested in discussing their faith,” and he put those thoughts on shelf.  When Oliver attended a small Catholic college in Helena, he became immersed in campus ministry, and found many other youths interested and engaged in their Catholic faith. During this time, Oliver was pursuing a career path in medicine; he also hoped to have a family some day.  Throughout this time, he knew he was still interested in the priesthood, but “I was always waiting for my big sign,” he said.

Oliver tells the story of his journey to become a seminarian.

Then, while visiting the Vatican with classmates from college, it happened.  While his close friends knelt down and prayed at St. Peter’s tomb, Oliver stood quietly in the back and felt a great love open from deep within him.  “At that moment, I was overwhelmed with my love for the Eucharist,” he explained through tears.  “It still chokes me up today—I’m getting used to being this emotional when I speak about it.”  Oliver’s overwhelming experience led him to contact Fr. Marc Lenneman, a trusted priest and mentor with whom he spoke with often.  Fr. Marc, who was present at the fire that night, knew Oliver from his college campus ministry and is also the Chaplain at Legendary Lodge.  After prayer and reflection, Oliver fully realized and “opened himself up” to his true calling, the priesthood.  It was not an easy process, but he now feels God’s plan has been fully revealed to him.

After Oliver’s heartfelt story, many others opened up around that very fire and spoke about their hopes, dreams, fears and faith.  Humorous stories and laugher intertwined with the deeply personal and profound.

Fr. Marc Lennemen, Legendary Lodge Chaplain

For the counselors and leaders at Legendary Lodge, it’s their goal that this experience does not leave when camp is over.  They work closely with the Bishop, area priests, youth ministers and parents to ensure the themes and ideas discussed are built upon throughout the year.  Based on the impactful camp experience, parishes are seeing their youth continue church involvement year-round.

The Diocese of Helena’s youth ministry program is truly connecting the dots between small, rural faith communities and the universal Church.  As I drove away from Legendary Lodge in the morning, I could feel the powerful momentum built throughout the diocese by their youth programs.  It seems to me very likely that tomorrow’s leaders of the Church are being cultivated in Montana.  And those young leaders, are the true jewels of the diocese.

— John Bannon, Manager of Digital Communications

Never Give Up

Never give up.  That is the attitude of Catholics in rural Virginia.  Last week, I met with communities where Catholic Extension has provided support and others in which we are exploring ways to provide new support.  These people are worth getting to know.

Dillanie is a Catholic student committed to her faith in spite of the many obstacles.

I met Dillanie, a 19-year old college student, who converted to Catholicism last year.  She jokes that she hit a “Catholic Grand Slam” when she entered the church by making a profession of faith, baptism, first Eucharist and Confirmation several months before starting college.  That was arguably her Catholic honeymoon.  Now she attends University of Virginia at Wise, where there is no Catholic campus ministry and no parish.  She does not have a car to drive to the nearest parish 15 miles away.  Dillanie admits that she gets heavy flak for being Catholic from her fellow students.  This, however, does not stop her from practicing her faith.  Every Sunday, she asks one of her Protestant classmates to drive her to church, where she attends Sunday Mass by herself. “It’s very difficult when there’s no support system,” she said

Because she has been so unapologetic about her commitment to her faith, other Catholic students are now beginning to surface on campus.  But, without coordination or leadership, Catholic students find it hard to get a community going.  Catholic Extension is in discussion with the Diocese of Richmond about how we can support the college students of this southwestern Appalachia region of Virginia.

Tazwelle, VA nestled in the Appalachian hills, is in danger of losing its soul and its future to rampant drug use among the youth.

The young people of this area are fighting for more than just their spiritual lives, as I learned from the parishioners of St. Theresa in Tazewell, Virginia, a parish of about 100 families that covers several counties of southwestern Virginia.  Since the mid-‘80s they have watched the addictive Oxycontin drug decimate their youth.  “We have a major drug problem here.  Everyone has been touched by it one way or another,” said Pat.  Last year the parish buried a 23 year-old woman who overdosed on the drug.  In spite of this, the parishioners have not lost hope. “We are few in number and big in faith,” said Kathy.  “All of us have had struggles in these small parishes, but ‘the Church’ is us, and we’re not going to give up. We are Catholic to the bone.”  These are powerful words for a community facing such an uphill battle.

In partnership with the diocese, Catholic Extension would like to develop Catholic young adult leaders who can provide companionship, purpose and the gift of faith to the youth in this area.

Fr. Dan Kelly wears a constant smile as he visits the orchard camps.

I met Fr. Dan Kelly, pastor of St. Mary in Lovingston, Virginia, and St. Francis of Assisi in Amherst, Virginia.  Both churches have been supported by Catholic Extension in the past six years to help build new facilities for these growing communities.  I quickly realized the cause of this growth:  Fr. Dan is perhaps the most energetic and outgoing 73-year old I’ve ever encountered.  Having absolutely no intentions of retiring or slowing down, Fr. Dan faithfully pastors his two churches and somehow finds the time to minister to nine different field worker camps in the area.  In spite of his age and his work load, he will not stop.

Beto, an orchard worker and proud Catholic, shows the image sown into his scapular of St. Toribio Romo, a 20th century Martyr.

He took us to one of these camps to introduce us to the men who work the orchards.  Away from their wives and children, and their faith community, they labor six days a week for nine straight months in the peach and apple industries.  The men are delighted to see Fr. Dan, who shows up with a full kettle of spaghetti that he prepared himself.  With the Irish twinkle in his eyes, Fr. Dan tells jokes to the workers over dinner, speaking Spanish with his endearing Gringo accent.  Beto, one of the workers, said that all the men are very Catholic, and they feel privileged to practice their faith with the help of Fr. Dan.

Out of their struggles, Catholics of Virginia have been conditioned to walk by faith.  They are building a foundation upon which Catholic Extension, in partnership with these refreshingly determined communities, can help create a foundation for a stronger Catholic Church that can serve as the compassionate hands of Christ for an area in need.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Putting a Price on the Invaluable

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.

Alejandro and Maria

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

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

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 – “We are all capable. Nobody’s so poor that they can’t do something for God”

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

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

Faith in People: Investing in the Future

In a time of institutional uncertainty for the Catholic Church in the U.S., we are still able to soundly invest in its future.  We do this by investing in people.  This was the observation of Catholic Extension’s Chancellor, Francis Cardinal George, in his remarks to our board members last week.  He went on to say that even if institutions fade, the faith will remain if we invest in people by providing leadership training, adult faith formation and religious education.  My travels this week confirmed this fact.

On June 3, I spent an evening with 120 young Catholics gathered in Philadelphia for the Campus Ministry Leadership Institute, an annual gathering of college student leaders designed to give Catholic students tools and training to be faith leaders on their campuses.  Catholic Extension provided funding so that nearly 50 students from under-resourced and geographically distant areas of the country could be a part of this experience.  Beginning in 2012, Catholic Extension will help regionalize this institute so Catholic university students from the Southeast, Southwest, and Western states will have greater access to this training.

Students

Students from the University of Missouri and Alumni of the Campus Ministry Leadership.

I met an extraordinary group of young people who, with support and encouragement, are going to do amazing things both in the coming academic year and in their future careers.

Alicia, from the University of Colorado in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, plans to implement a peer-to-peer outreach so that her campus ministry can connect more Catholic students to the Catholic Church.  “We are all passionate about our faith and our belief in God is moving us to do this,” she said.

Kristin, a native Texan studying education at Texas Tech in the Diocese of Lubbock, says her faith is impacting her career plans.  Initially, she wanted to try to “make some money.”  But, after teaching in a Catholic School, she decided to dedicate her career to educating the poor.  “Children need to know that they are loved by God,” she said.

Dan, a journalism major and campus ministry intern from the University of Missouri in the Diocese of Jefferson City, admits that campus ministry has changed his life. “It’s made me consider service in the Church,” he stated with great sincerity, explaining that he is considering the pursuit of many ministerial vocations upon graduation, including the priesthood.

It’s amazing to be in a room with so many young Catholics who are fervently faithful and accept the invitation to leadership.  As I spoke with the students about their interests and dreams, Cardinal George’s words resonated deeply.  These are the future leaders of the Church, and we must invest in them now.

Catholic Extension is discussing with campus ministers how we can solidify this leadership pipeline, so that we are investing in the development of young people during their college years, while creating post-graduate leadership opportunities as well. We cannot lose touch with these aspiring young leaders, who are arguably the Church’s greatest assets.

It’s faith-affirming to meet with these young Catholics, who are giving so much of themselves and receiving so much from their Catholic faith.  It reminds us that, no matter what, we must invest in people, because people do make a difference.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Young Catholics in Youngstown: Bringing New Life to Communities Accustomed to Tragedy

It’s hard not to be intimidated sometimes, or to feel discouraged or fearful about what’s happening in the world.  However, the oft-spoken scriptural adage, “Be not afraid,” is in the forefront of my mind as I return from Youngstown, Ohio.  In 2010, Catholic Extension started supporting this diocese of the Rust Belt.  The commitment came as the diocese was facing great evil in its inner city.

In January of 2010, Angeline, an 80-year-old parishioner of St. Dominic, was fatally shot as she was leaving church in an apparent botched mugging.  In September 2010, tragedy again struck when two 75-year-old parishioners were fired upon 12 times in their car.  Tom, the husband, was killed by a bullet to the head, and Jackie, his wife, was shot in the leg.  Although Jackie survived, part of her leg had to be amputated.  The couple had been “mistaken” for rival gang members.

New Hope

A family member of one of the deceased spreads dirt on a vacant lot to plant seeds that will yield new plants as well as new hope.

Parishioners of this resilient community on Youngstown’s south-side have refused to let these incidents darken their spirits.  They realize that it’s a moment to “be not afraid.”  To support them, Catholic Extension and the Diocese of Youngstown are collaborating on “Project Grow: Planting Hope.”  The project engages community members, parishioners, and teenage Catholic students from across the diocese to restore hope to the neighborhood by cleaning up junk and planting grass and vegetables in lots where drug houses once stood.  While the project will eliminate urban blight, it also serves as a means to engage the diocese’s young Catholics, to teach them the value of service and to help them see Christ in everybody and everywhere, including in these struggling neighborhoods.

Shuttered Factory

A shuttered factory in Youngstown, Ohio

On May 21, with support from Catholic Extension donors, more than 120 young Catholics hit the streets of Youngstown in various locations to take the neighborhoods back.  The evening before their work began, the youth were prepped with prayer by participating in Eucharistic Adoration.  They were instructed to see Christ not only in the chapel but in the streets of Youngstown, and to discover for themselves what it literally means to renew the face of the Earth.

“These young people are a symbol of hope for us,” said Fr, Greg, St. Dominic pastor, who spoke as kids worked around him in the 80-degree sun picking up old liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia from a vacant lot next to the parish, while planting grass seed to create a playing field. “Catholic Extension wants to instill the Catholic faith more deeply and this is what we are doing today,” he added.

Family members of the deceased also were among the workers.  I spoke to the nieces of one of the slain.  “We will not let this violence define us.  But being out here today helps give us some closure,” one said.  More importantly, the family members wanted to “stand with the parish” in its effort to fight back.

Of Service

Teens experience what it’s like to be of service.

John Drummond, a recent graduate of Ohio State University as well as an alum of the Catholic high school down the street from St. Dominic, was in charge of logistics.  “I think this service has taught kids that your community is much larger than the 10 houses on your block,” he noted.  He gives these kids  credit.  “These kids are really inspiring,” said John, who is only in his early 20s.  “This generation gets a bad rap because people assume ‘these kids don’t want to do anything; they just want to play on their iPhones,’ but these kids are working hard.”

What’s the impact of this experience on the kids? You be the judge.

“This teaches us to help your neighbor,” said Taylor, a high school freshman.

“Poverty is not just in other countries, it’s right here in the U.S.” said Taiwana, also a freshman.

“I want to do this again soon,” said Mahia.

Change has to start somewhere.  On May 21 we took a great step forward for inner-city parishioners as well as for young Catholics from across the Diocese of Youngstown.  Catholic Extension will continue supporting the diocese to solidify and grow this hands-on evangelization.

— Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

Hope: A Stadium Full of Proof

At Catholic Extension, we’ve seen so many inspiring Catholic communities doing so much with few resources.  We’ve developed a saying to describe what we are witnessing: “Hope is happening in 3-D.”

A young person bears gifts at Mass while 10,000 onlookers watch.

This past weekend, I visited Stockton, for a unique event held in the community for the last 30 consecutive years: the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration.  More than 12,000 people of all ages from parishes throughout the Diocese of Stockton are represented at this annual event, which includes a procession with dozens of semi-trucks hauling meticulously decorated floats that slowly make their way down the streets as parishioners sing hymns, perform traditional cultural dances in magnificently colorful costumes, or dress in character to act out scenes from the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego.

“When I first celebrated the Feast of Our Lady in the 1960s, there were only three people. Now it overwhelms me to come here today and see the thousands.”

The procession is about a mile in length and ends at the Stockton Arena, an indoor sports stadium, where approximately 10,000 faithful pack the stands for a post-procession Mass with the bishop.  While Catholics have been doing processions (the precursor to the modern parade) for centuries, one of this scale is truly a sight to behold.

The most striking thing about the celebration, though, isn’t the enormous  procession or arena Mass, but is, in fact, the vibrant, growing faith community the event has helped to create.  For three decades, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has united the community of Stockton, enriched the faith of people and acted as a force of hope in the face of severe economic hardship and escalating crime rates in some areas.  It draws people, particularly young people, into the Church.

After the event we caught up with some of the Catholic faithful who have been a part of the event for many years. The significance and growth of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebration was underscored by a woman who danced in the procession in its earliest days and today watches her grandchildren participate in the event. “I’ll stand up to say this,” she said, pushing her walker away from her. “When I first celebrated the Feast of Our Lady in the 1960s, there were only three people.  Now it overwhelms me to come here today and see the thousands.”

Youth march through the streets of Stockton, CA as part of the annual procession to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe.

One of the teenagers involved in the festivities talked about how she has witnessed young people’s lives literally transformed through their experience with this event.  “Doing drugs, getting pregnant, or joining a gang are ways that young people get into trouble here, but we’ve seen kids turning away from that because this event gives them hope and purpose.”

One young man, who performs in the parade each year and attributes his survival of a bad accident to Our Lady of Guadalupe, said, “We realize we are family here, united in our faith.”

“When I see all these young people walking the streets in the name of the Church,” said one man, “the hair on my arms just stands right up.”

In a recent blog post, I talked about resourceful Christianity — people who really stretch the dollar.  Stockton’s Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe event requires a full year of planning, involves hundreds of volunteer organizers and, ultimately, engages thousands of people who sing and perform in the procession.  Considering the Diocese of Stockton has only a single paid staff person organizing this event, one stands in amazement at the community’s ability to organize and grow a celebration of this magnitude from 3 to 12,000 over the years.

But Stockton’s Catholics are determined to keep expanding the event.  Catholic Extension is working with the diocese to further support its efforts to enhance the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe experience and create a more financially sustainable event, so that the continued growth of this Catholic feast does not outgrow the diocese’s capacity to host this experience and reach out to even more of the nearly 325,000 people in the area.

This past Sunday, I saw 12,000 people and 12,000 reasons to be hopeful.  As one man told me, “When we all come together like this, we realize we are not alone.”  I couldn’t help but think about those early disciples who, upon realizing that they weren’t alone, immediately got out into the streets to offer some Good News to the world.  We were grateful to see hopeful things take place before our eyes– in 3-D – during an extraordinary day in Stockton, CA.

Where do you see hope happening near you?

Our Lady of Guadalupe is honored by an annual procession in Stockton, CA.

– Joe Boland, Senior Director of Grants Management

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