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Missionary territory in your back yard

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Christ “has no hands, no feet on earth but yours”

St. Teresa of Avila


By Brenda Noriega

 For us as Catholics, being a disciple and caring for people’s needs is not an option. Jesus commissioned the disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 19-20) 

 So our main task is to make disciples. 

 The Office of Ministry with Young Catholics, responding to our call to be missionary disciples, participated in a summer young adult missionary exchange program in collaboration with Catholic Extension. Nine young adults from two dioceses with different ministerial realities were chosen to be part of this program. One of the goals was to give a missionary experience to young adults and show them a different reality than the one in which they currently minister. The Diocese of San Bernardino was represented by Omar Fernandez Iniguez from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Indio; Jazmin Santiago from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mecca; Ana Julia Hinojosa from Our Lady of Soledad in Coachella; and Sandy Torres from St. Mary of the Valley, Yucca Valley. 

 “The mission trip was a very learning and eye opening experience for me,” said Omar Fernandez. “I was given the opportunity to not just learn about Hispanic Ministry but to live the ministry work first hand with the experience of seeing what immigrant and migrant families go through every day. It was very heart breaking to learn about all their struggles but yet it gave me inspiration to serve the Church more through ministry work. It set this fire in my heart that is ready to continue serving.” 

 This missionary program has the objective of immersing young adults from different dioceses in the pastoral realities of another diocese. This two-week experience took place July 8-21. During the first week, the missionaries from the two participating dioceses spent one week at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC) in San Antonio, Texas taking classes on Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century. At the end of the first week, the missionaries spent two days doing mission at the Mexican border with migrant families. During the second week, the missionaries traveled to their host diocese. The four young adults representing our diocese were sent to serve migrant families in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan and we welcomed to our diocese five young adults from the Archdiocese of Chicago. 

 These missionaries served the community of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mecca for one week. Their missionary experience consisted of living in community, leading the parish children’s Bible Camp, visiting young people in houses, walking the streets of North Shore inviting neighbors to participate in Mass, founding a youth ministry, and visiting families of the Purepecha, who are indigenous peoples of the eastern Coachella Valley. 

 A key player to make this a successful program was Father Francisco Valdovinos, S.T., Pastor of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who was fully invested in the preparation process for this missionary experience. He entrusted the young missionaries with the wellbeing of his young parishioners. Fr. Valdovinos’ spirit of empowerment demonstrated how much young people can do when their pastors trust them fully. His hospitality and the embracing welcoming of the Mecca community impacted the young adults from Chicago. They were impressed of the generosity of a community that shares in abundance the little they have. 

 During the second week, our young adults were sent to do missionary work in the Diocese of Kalamazoo with migrant families. They served this community by working in the fields shoulder to shoulder with farmworkers, utilizing their time together for evangelization. They visited the migrant school sharing with the children the importance of sticking to their roots. They brought hope and joy to two young girls, one with a lung illness and another one with cancer. 

 Although the participating young adults from the Diocese are from rural communities and have witnessed the migrant work in their families, listening to migrant families’ stories at the border was life changing.

 Young adult Jazmin Santiago explains. “As we were walking the desert, and I was thinking about the migrant families that cross it, one of my peers approaches us with two pairs of shoelaces, one pair pink and small and one big pair. Ms. Ramona explained to us that when migrants are detained, their shoelaces are removed. Therefore, these two pairs could only mean one thing, a little girl has been separated from her parents. This broke and transformed my heart.” 

 Transformational missionary experiences do not end after two weeks. The way to know when people have been empowered through a process is when they continue carry on after the termination date. Omar, Sandy, Jazmin, and Julia continue the work that the missionaries from Chicago started during their time in the Diocese of San Bernardino. They continue visiting families, evangelizing in the streets of North Shore, leading youth ministry, and more. The Office of Ministry with Young Catholics will continue developing a culture of mission among our young people. During summer 2019, we are planning to do a two-week missionary program bringing young people from our Diocese to continue serving the Low Desert. 

 Missionary discipleship is not for a few but for all the baptized. We are called to be prophets bringing the good news to all people. It is necessary to take time to get out of our comfort zone and seek them out as Christ came to us when we did not know Him. We need to take time to know and understand without judgment the struggles our brothers and sisters are facing. Taking the good news that God is merciful is the best way to live our discipleship. 

Brenda Noriega is the Young Adult Ministry Coordinator for the Diocese of San Bernardino.