Austin, Texas, Oct 23, 2010 (CNA) - Six new FOCUS missionaries have joined the Catholic Student Center at Texas State University in San Marcos to evangelize and minister to college students.
FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) is a national Catholic outreach program providing missionaries to college campuses all over the country. The missionaries are recent college graduates who have been taught effective methods of evangelization. Their purpose is to expand Catholic campus ministries.
Kayla DiNardo, the development director at the Texas State University Catholic Student Center, said the center is blessed to have the missionaries.
“They spend their days out on campus, inviting kids to our Sunday Masses, to get involved in our Catholic Center activities, and most of all, to join one of our weekly Bible studies,” DiNardo said. “This August, the day before classes started, our FOCUS missionaries attracted a crowd of new students to the Catholic Center by setting up a big water slide and snow cone booth outside. The wonderful part was that more than 100 students walked inside the Catholic Center for the first time.”
DiNardo said ministering to college students is an ideal opportunity to carry out the church’s call to evangelize.
“Young college students are extremely malleable, and looking for a place to fit in. It’s an ideal time for us to encourage them to live an authentic Catholic life,” she said.
DiNardo added that new students can be overwhelmed with peer influences that are not always positive. “Many students that have been raised in the Catholic faith, suddenly find themselves surrounded by sexual promiscuity, alcoholism and other unhealthy, risky behaviors. Our commitment is to reach out and bring them back to their Catholic values. And we’ve brought in FOCUS missionaries to help us do this.”
FOCUS missionaries have learned how to connect with students and encourage them to examine the meaning and purpose of their lives. They go through an intense summer training that centers on evangelization, apologetics, small group dynamics, Scripture and fundraising.
Mike Huelsing, a FOCUS missionary at Texas State University, said the training is “a cross between graduate school, a religious retreat and mini-boot camp … For five weeks we live on the campus of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. We start each morning with a holy hour of prayer and then head to the classrooms until 4 p.m. The instruction is very thorough, and we’re privileged to have several well-known guest speakers. By the time we leave the training, we feel confident in our ability to inspire college students in their faith.”
Huelsing is in his fourth year as a missionary and is now team director for the group that has been placed at Texas State.
“We are asked to serve a minimum of two years as FOCUS missionaries, but I feel like I could do this forever,” he mused.
Father Brian Eilers, the director of the H.L. Grant Catholic Center, requested FOCUS missionaries for the university campus.
“Our goal is to minister to the 32,000 college students attending Texas State University,” he said. “We know that about 8,000 of those students are Catholic, yet we only see about 500 at our Sunday Masses. It’s clear we have some work to do.”
Father Eilers visited the FOCUS headquarters in 2009 and was impressed, so he sought the bishop’s approval to bring the missionaries to Texas State.
“Today we are the only college campus in Texas with FOCUS missionaries,” he said. Because FOCUS is a new ministry, there are not enough missionaries to send to every campus that requests them.
“I felt that Texas State would be a prime location for FOCUS, because of our unique demographics,” Father Eilers explained. “We have a large population of Catholics, but only a small percentage participate.”
He knows they will encourage Catholic college students to continue practicing their faith and they will be shining examples of Catholicism for those who are not Catholic.
“These missionaries can reach out as peers and confidants, and examples of joyful, good Christians,” Father Eilers said.
Since arriving at Texas State, Huelsing and the other five new missionaries: Andrea Huelsing (Mike Huelsing’s wife), Jon Ervin, Reese Harris, Sara Griffith and Brian D’Andrea have been met with “amazing acceptance,” he said.
Mike Huelsing reports a gratifying increase of student traffic through the Catholic center.
“We have enrolled more than 170 new students into our weekly Bible studies, brought in 60 students to our new Power Hour evenings of praise and worship, and recently took 20 students on a tubing excursion,” he said. “We are very encouraged about the response we’re getting.”
Nationwide, FOCUS missionaries have seen positive results. Since its inception in 1998, the numbers of students participating in campus Bible studies, Mass, the sacrament of confession and campus ministry events have grown substantially. And 236 young people have answered the call to the priesthood or religious life in areas where FOCUS missionaries minister.
The movement was started by husband and wife, Curtis and Michaelann Martin, who were inspired by Pope John Paul VI’s call to a “new evangelization” of the Catholic faith. It began with four missionaries serving one college campus and has grown to more than 250 missionaries serving 50 campuses today.
FOCUS missionaries have the double duty of evangelizing and also fundraising for all their living expenses.
“We have to raise 100 percent of our salary,” Mike Huelsing said. “We will speak at our hometown parishes requesting donations, and send out letters to family and friends. We try to get our finances worked out during the summer, so we can devote the school year to our campus missionary work.”
Father Eilers said the missionaries are great role-models for the college students.
“They challenge our student leaders to take a step up in their faith. Research shows that once students engage in campus ministry, they are far more likely to be with the church, as active participants, for the rest of their lives. And that is ultimately our purpose –– to grow authentic Catholic leaders for the future.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Spirit, newspaper for the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
Vatican City, Oct 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The cause for the canonization of Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was officially opened in Rome this week. The cardinal, who suffered for years in Vietnamese prisons without trial, was exiled from his homeland and is remembered for never losing hope.
The diocesan phase of Cardinal Van Thuan's canonization cause was inaugurated on Oct. 22 at Rome's Lateran Palace. Cardinal Agostino Vallini, vicar of Rome, was on hand. So too was Cardinal Peter Kodwa Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which Cardinal Van Thuan once led.
Cardinal Vallini remembered the Vietnamese prelate as a "witness of hope."
Fr. Van Thuan was highly respected in his homeland. He worked in a number of roles including prison and hospital chaplain, seminary professor and rector before becoming the Bishop of Nha Trang, Vietnam in 1967. Through his direct involvement, in his eight years as bishop there the seminaries in the diocese more than tripled their enrollment.
Elected by Pope Paul VI as the coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon in 1975, he was subsequently jailed for "having plotted with the Vatican and the imperialists against the communist revolution." He spent a total of 13 years imprisoned in North Vietnamese jails without ever receiving a trial. He was in solitary confinement for nine of them.
During this time, his hope was buoyed through the Eucharistic celebration, through which he transformed his cells into veritable chapels. Using breadcrumbs and wine, smuggled in under the guise of stomach medicine, he consecrated the bread and wine in the palm of his hand into the Body and Blood of Christ. He was also able to fashion a pectoral cross out of wood that hung from his neck by a chain made of bits of wire.
His imprisonment, John Paul II recalled in the year 2000, serves to "reinforce in us the consoling certainty that when everything around us and maybe within us falls apart, Christ remains our unfailing support."
Archbishop Van Thuan was released in 1988, but after making a trip to Rome in 1991 he was not allowed to return home. He continued to work to build up the Vietnamese Church from Eternal City and in 1994 he entered the Roman Curia under appointment by John Paul II as the vice president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. In 1998, he was named the council's president. He was created cardinal in Feb. 2001 and died in Sept. 2002.
Little more than eight years after his death, on Oct. 22 celebrations for Servant of God Van Thuan's cause for canonization were opened with a suffrage Mass celebrated by Cardinal Turkson. Following the Eucharistic celebration was the third edition of the Van Thuan Awards and the official opening of the cause. An artistic show inspired by the late-cardinal called "Witness of Hope" was performed later that evening.
Vatican City, Oct 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The saints are “fascinating guides” to faith, hope and love who show that ordinary people bring God's comfort and light to the world, commented Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi.
On Oct. 17, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the Church's six newest saints in St. Peter Square. Fr. Lombardi commented on this event during his "Octava Dies" (Eighth Day) weekly television editorial this week.
This year's canonizations were particularly special, he explained, because of the origins of two of the saints in the group, Sts. Mary MacKillop and Andre Bessette. They hail from two nations with few canonized saints, Australia and Canada.
Canadian and Australian pilgrims flew their flags throughout the square before and after the ceremony. They were joined in the celebration by many others from Spain, Italy and Poland, the homelands of the four other new saints.
In a canonization, said Fr. Lombardi, the Church solemnly proposes the Christian life of a person, recognizing something that is "already understood" among the people. This understanding, he explained, is that "certain people," the saints, "embody the Gospel in an extraordinary and exemplary way." Thus, they become "spiritual friends for whoever encounters them and fascinating guides to discovering the love of God, faith and hope," he said.
"Canonizations are recognition that the Spirit of God breathes through ordinary people, like Mary and Br. Andre, and [they] produce fruits of virtue that are sources of comfort and light for many others," he continued.
The declaration sainthood is a "true celebration," he said, explaining that through this solemn recognition saints spread their faith, hope and love, even if they are not all universally popular.
"This," noted Fr. Lombardi, "is the most beautiful aspect of the Church."
In service to mankind, he said, the Church helps people from all places to "walk to meet God along the paths of holiness." Turning to all people, he concluded, "we need to learn to see the Church in this perspective and continuously renew her, beginning with ourselves."
Washington D.C., Oct 23, 2010 (CNA) - After a series of legal reversals this week, the permanent status of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy on homosexuality remains unresolved. On Oct. 22, Military Archbishop Timothy Broglio explained to CNA why he believes the government must maintain the policy.
U.S. District Court Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was “unconstitutional”-- prompting criticism from those who see the Constitution as silent on the matter, and opposition from the Obama administration which prefers its legislative repeal. While a Justice Department order temporarily kept Phillips' ruling from taking effect, the Pentagon also issued new rules on Oct. 22, limiting military officials' authority to discharge open homosexuals.
Archbishop Broglio explained to CNA what he sees as the basic flaw in Judge Phillips' ruling, which declared that “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” denied homosexual soldiers their rights to freedom of speech and due process. The archbishop explained that while individuals may have a legal right to declare their sexual preferences, they have no comparable “right” to serve in the military at the same time.
Rather, he said, the military reserves to itself the right to deny individuals that privilege-- just as soldiers may forfeit the privilege of military service in many other ways, through their speech and behavior.
“While I presume that Judge Phillips has a better preparation in Constitutional law than I do,” the prelate reflected, “it seems to me that there is no blanket 'right' in the Constitution to serve in the Armed Forces.” He posed a question to critics of the ban on open homosexuality: “Does the military not have the right to choose who will serve?” In virtually all capacities, he observed, officials makes such choices rigorously.
“As the Shepherd for Catholics in the military,” he recounted, “I am continually faced by the fact that priests can be excluded from military service, because of health or weight problems or because of their age. Are those distinctions discriminatory?”
Archbishop Broglio also detailed his concern that Christian chaplains, and those of several other religions, might lose the right to proclaim teachings that oppose homosexual behavior. The danger to religious liberty, he said, “is latent in the agenda being advanced by many” under the guise of mere tolerance. In reality, he said, “there is an agenda to force everyone to accept as normal and positive behavior that is contrary to the moral norms of many religions, including the Catholic Church.”
“While the Armed Forces will never oblige a priest or minister to act in an official capacity contrary to his or her religious beliefs,” he noted, “there is the danger that teaching objective moral precepts or seeking to form youngsters in the faith could be misconstrued as intolerance. Then indeed, freedom of religion would be compromised.”
The archbishop also articulated the crucial difference between constitutionally guaranteed “free exercise of religion,” and the much more limited idea of a mere “freedom of worship.” If the military opts to silence many faiths' opposition to homosexuality, he said, their religious liberty would suffer.
“As Catholics,” he warned, “we must be attentive to the protection of our freedom of religion”-- neither subordinating it to the idea of tolerance, nor trading it for the mere “freedom of worship.” If members of the Church do not defend this freedom in the public square, he said, “we may well lose it.”
Rome, Italy, Oct 23, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Irish bishops have announced plans for a year of prayer for renewal in the light of clergy sexual abuse scandals that have roiled the Church.
Using Pope Benedict XVI's guidance as the core of the initiative, the bishops hope to promote healing within the Church through reconciliation, adoration and Scripture reading.
At the conclusion of their annual meeting Oct. 19, the bishops indicated that their program would be based on suggestions made by Pope Benedict XVI in the pastoral letter he sent to Ireland’s Catholics in March.
Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 28, the Irish Church will begin a year of prayer, penance, and spiritual renewal.
In his March 19 letter, the Pope had invited Irish Catholics to devote their ordinary Friday penances to the intention of healing and “the long-term process of restoration.” He also encouraged them to fast, pray, read the Scriptures, and works of mercy "to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland."
He also encouraged them to go to confession more often and to spend more time in prayer before the Eucharist.
The bishops said they will put these suggestions into action, recognizing the need for "profound renewal." They proposed that the "first step" in the process to be the observance of the Year of St. Matthew.
The renewal will follow the Church’s liturgical reading of the Gospel of Matthew in the Sunday Mass celebrations. This, the bishops explained, will be "an opportunity for all to avail of Scripture-based prayer to guide the renewal of the Church in Ireland at this time." In addition, the bishops will encourage Catholics to participate in Eucharistic adoration, confession and Friday penance. They will also pray the special prayer for the Church of Ireland included at the end of the Pope’s March letter.
In a statement, the bishops said they welcomed the upcoming Vatican investigation of certain dioceses as well as seminaries and religious congregations in the country. They hoped that it "will assist in purifying and healing the Church in Ireland and will help to restore the trust and hope of the faithful in our country."