“Thank you all for answering God’s call to mission and sharing your faith so enthusiastically. Our confirmandi have been inspired, encouraged, and renewed.”
This quote from a parish priest in the diocese is a very accurate indication of the contribution that volunteer missionaries make to the sharing of the Gospel in our diocese.
Every year a group of young adults age 18-25 are welcomed into the SPEC community to spend a year in formation, evangelisation, and pursuit of holiness. These young adults form our volunteer missionary team, committing to living an authentically Catholic Christian life in community while being formed in their call to holiness. Each volunteer missionary brings their own unique gifts, talents, and skills to share the gospel with the young people of the Diocese of Westminster who come to SPEC on retreat.
Working alongside our retreat staff, they are an essential component in our retreat ministry, being able to connect and relate with retreatants who might only be a year or two younger than them. Our communal life at SPEC is a significant witness to the young people that visit us: they will see young adults living a year of ministry and mission, living together as brothers and sisters, learning and growing in their faith journey and showing that being authentically Catholic – with all its ups and downs – can be rewarding, fun, fulfilling and joyful.
Missionary? Really? Yes. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ is full of references to the Church and her missionary outreach, for example:
In our day Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples” echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel. [EG20]
The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. [EG24]
Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two
areas: the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership. We should recognize that despite the present crisis of commitment and communal relationships, many young people are making common cause before the problems of our world and are taking up various forms of activism and volunteer work. Some take part in the life of the Church as members of service groups and various missionary initiatives in their own dioceses and in other places. How beautiful it is to see that young people are “street preachers” (callejeros de la fe), joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth! [EG106]
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41) [EG120]
But a missionary in my home country? Indeed, as in the words of St John Paul II
…there is an intermediate situation, particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. In this case what is needed is a “new evangelization” or a “re-evangelization”. [Redemptoris Missio 33]
Thus a mission year at SPEC provides not only an opportunity for personal formation in faith, but a very real missionary role among those ready to respond, for want of knowing or an invitation, to God’s call to “come to the water, all you who are thirsty” [Isaiah 55:1].
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