Missioners meet ‘Christ in the City’

.- One is in formation to be a priest. One hopes to practice medicine. One plans to do social ministry. These missioners are called to different work, but they all share one desire: to serve Christ.

And they did during a two-week mission in Denver, Colorado that ended last week called Christ in the City. An initiative of Catholic Charities of the Denver Archdiocese, the pilot program gave 25 young adults from Colorado and other states the opportunity to combine spiritual and academic formation with service.

The Denver Catholic Register caught up with Christ in the City June 10 during a field day for 180 inner-city youths the mission co-sponsored with Catholic Charities Youth Services at a middle school in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood.

“The purpose of Christ in the City is to form future leaders in Catholic charitable work who love the poor with the heart of Christ,” explained missioner Chris Miller, 21, of St. Paul, Minn.

A third-year seminarian at St. John Vianney College Seminary in his home diocese, Miller spoke to the Register in between leading games on a grassy field.

“It’s very much needed to have social work that is connected to Christ,” Miller said as playing youngsters darted across the field shrieking with delight. “In Christ in the City I’m able to practice leadership qualities that will help me in my priesthood.”

The field day youngsters came from a couple of different schools. A second field day for 75 refugee children took place the following day at another site.

“The goal of the field days is to give kids who may not have an opportunity for a day camp to have a fun day of recreation,” explained Yvonne Noggle, Christ in the City coordinator.

According to the student participants, the event was a success.

“It’s been really fun,” said 10-year-old Charlie Jones as he stood in line in the school cafeteria to get lunch. Describing his favorite game at the event, the water bucket relay, he added with a grin, “I liked the part where I got wet.”

Journei Winters, 10, agreed, adding that she also liked the missioners.

“They’re nice,” she said with a smile.

Other jobs Christ in the City missioners did over the two weeks included serving the elderly at Mullen Home; providing outreach assistance to pregnant women and new mothers at the Respect Life Office’s Gabriel House; teaching English as a Second Language at the Denver Archdiocese’s Hispanic institute Centro San Juan Diego; doing cleanup at St. Joseph Parish in Denver; and helping the homeless at the Father Ed Judy House and at Samaritan House.

The missioners lived in community—the females at one site, the males at another—and were  commissioned for their service by Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Their spiritual formation included morning and evening prayer, daily Mass, and a penance service and eucharistic adoration. They concluded their service with a mountain retreat.

Their educational formation included studying Catholic social teaching and evangelization at the Augustine Institute and learning about nonprofit business at Catholic Charities.

“I was looking for a comprehensive volunteer program that focused on service, spirituality and learning,” said missioner Megan Crain, 22, as she ate her lunch. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”

From Duluth, Minn., Crain recently earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. Her primary service during the two-week mission was working at Gabriel House, providing material and spiritual support to mothers in need. Crain said she aims to become a doctor and serve underprivileged populations.

“Hopefully, this will help with that,” she said. 

Finding the mission valuable, Crain signed on for an internship with Catholic Charities and will help launch the yearlong Christ in the City program fall 2011.

“Just having this experience is enriching,” she said. “I’m thankful to be here.”

Missioner Elizabeth Pena, 22, resides in Greeley. She just earned a bachelor’s degree in human services, which she hopes to put to use in a nonprofit such as Catholic Charities. Her primary job during the mission was ministering alongside the Little Sisters of the Poor caring for the elderly at Mullen Home.

“I’m learning what it means to serve others—to humbly serve with charity,” she said.

Already armed with academic knowledge, Pena said the Christ in the City mission gave her the opportunity to experience the reality of service and affirmed her desire to do charitable work.

“It’s moving from my mind to my heart,” Pena said. “It’s turning into being God’s people. We’re not here to cure poverty, but to love people.”

The program promised the missioners the opportunity to meet “Christ in the City.” Pena said she did in those she served.

“I’m seeing Christ in others by really looking at the person and seeing they have feelings, a history and a story,” Pena said. “I’m taking time to connect with them and learn their story.”

Based on the success of the pilot program, organizers are already planning the yearlong experience set for fall 2011 with the ultimate goal of launching a nationwide movement.

“Our goal of Christ in the City was to give the participants a glimpse of a yearlong movement that encompasses the integral human being: mind, body and soul,” Noggle said. “Through the intellectual, charitable and spiritual components of this program, the lives of the missionaries and those they served were profoundly affected.”

Project initiator Jonathan Reyes, president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Denver Archdiocese, said the results affirmed the mission’s objective.

“We aimed to impart a vision for leadership and to stretch the young people in their leadership ability,” he said. “We accomplished both. It was a visionary and challenging program that put their leadership to the test. That’s what made it work. It’s just a taste of what we can accomplish in a yearlong program. It’s the tip of the iceberg.”

Expressing gratitude to the project collaborators—the Christian Life Movement and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul—Reyes said he’s already heard from other dioceses interested in the program.

“I totally expect it to be a nationwide phenomenon and movement,” he said. “It’s clearly filling a need in the young who love Christ and want to serve.”

Printed with permission from the Denver Catholic Register, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Denver.

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