Monthly Archives: September 2013

Dignity for All

by Kelly Phelan Powell

The programs and services offered by Hispanic Catholic Ministry are an integral part of the mission of the Diocese of Shreveport, but many of the faithful are unsure what, exactly, the functions of the office are. Everyone sees the Reflexión del Obispo, the Spanish translation of Bishop Duca’s message, in the Catholic Connection each month, but that is only a tiny fraction of the important responsibilities of Rosalba Quiroz, Marcos Villalba and Jeanne Brown. In fact, Hispanic Catholic Ministry has a social justice aspect that is as crucial to this region as its religious component.

Father Mark Watson, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Oak Grove and St. Patrick Church in Lake Providence, explained, “I go back to the Book of Genesis, that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, and so everyone has a special value.” It’s no revelation that our modern American culture places more value on people of wealth, those who are highly educated and members of certain ethnic or racial groups, but the Catholic Church sees it differently. “Everyone is equal, and everyone has equal dignity,” said Watson.

From a Catholic perspective, we all have equal value in God’s estimation. “The Catholic Church has really been wonderful about standing up for the rights of all immigrants and saying that all migrants deserve the spiritual and material benefits of the Church,” said Watson. A large number of immigrants to this country are Catholic, which, of course, gives them a special relationship with the Church, but the Church sees all migrants as brothers and sisters, regardless of their religion or denomination. Quiroz, who is the director of Hispanic Catholic Ministry and has been working in the office since 2000, pointed out that not all of the people her office assists are Catholic, or even Hispanic, for that matter – they’ve helped people from Laos, Palestine and other countries as well as those from Latin American regions.

People are often tempted to label the Catholic stance on immigration as “liberal,” but the fact is that the Church does not view immigration as a solely political issue; rather, it is also a matter of social justice and human rights. “We believe the person is sacred – the clearest reflection of God among us,” said the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their 1986 pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All.” In a publication entitled “Immigration in the United States,” the Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, says, “The Church has taken a position on immigration because, besides being an economic, social and legal issue, it is also a human one, and thus ultimately has moral implications. Whatever is human, or touches on the human person and his or her dignity, is a concern of the Church.”

The USCCB has long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. In a statement published in 2011, they called for:
• A path to citizenship for the undocumented population in the country
• Reform of the family-based immigration system to reunite families – husband, wife and children – more expeditiously
• A future flow low-skilled worker program for migrant workers to enter and work in the U.S. safely and legally
• The restoration of due process protections for immigrants
• Policies that address the root causes of migration – poverty and persecution

The last point is particularly important to Watson, who currently celebrates Mass in Spanish at his parish every two weeks (soon to be weekly). “We [as Catholics] would say that all people have certain rights: to have enough to eat, to live in decent housing, to freely practice their religion. And so, in the eyes of the Church, when a person can’t feed their family, can’t find meaningful work, those are reasons that would allow the person to have the right to migrate to another country.”

In the past, a large part of the Hispanic Catholic Ministry’s function was to guide immigrants through the process to achieve resident status, but since Catholic Charities of Shreveport opened in 2010 and established their Immigration and Social Services Department (see pg. 16), Hispanic Catholic Ministry now focuses mainly on the spiritual needs of Hispanic Catholics. However, they do still assist what Quiroz terms “vulnerable” clients – those who cannot afford to pay, people whose cases they started prior to the establishment of Catholic Charities’ office and victims of crimes, such as spousal abuse. In her day-to-day work, she fields questions about everything from public schools to baptism. “It’s a little bit of community service and social work,” she said, “but mostly helping them receive the sacraments.”

Two such vulnerable clients of Quiroz’s were Jose Rodriguez and his mother, Nina Montanez. When they emigrated to the U.S. from Panama in 2001, Nina was a victim of abuse and neither of them could speak English. Being undocumented and unable to speak the language made almost every aspect of daily existence exceedingly difficult for them. Nina couldn’t find work because she didn’t have a green card; she didn’t dare drive for fear of being pulled over and jailed by police. Jose had to take two buses to get to school each morning; the school across the street from his home declined to admit him because he couldn’t speak English, and they had no bilingual administrators or faculty.

In addition to facing poverty and struggling to get an education, Jose and Nina found that they couldn’t even access healthcare without incurring crushing expenses – the clinic at LSU Medical Center, the local public hospital, charges $250 to see patients who cannot provide proof of residency. Quiroz pointed out that living in this country as an undocumented immigrant essentially makes it all but impossible to lead a purposeful life, as it prevents people from engaging in all the daily activities that citizens take for granted, like obtaining  employment, driving and securing decent housing.

Thankfully, Quiroz was able to help them navigate the immigration process, and today, both Jose and Nina have achieved legal residency status. Jose looks forward to taking the citizenship test soon. Quiroz explained that citizenship differs from residency in a number of key ways, namely that citizenship will allow them to vote, make them eligible for government jobs, enable them to apply for grants and permit them to travel freely in and out of the country – something that’s important if they want to visit relatives in Panama.

Jose works at a restaurant and began taking classes at Bossier Parish Community College this fall. He hopes to continue to a four-year university and become a children’s therapist. He said that Hispanic Catholic Ministry did much more than help him and his mother navigate the legal system. “They helped us with the paperwork,” he said, “but we also gained a new family.” Nina agreed. “They were a great help.”

This spring, Watson, Quiroz and countless others will be preparing for and looking forward to the annual Migrant Workers Mass, usually held in May, at a packing-shed-turned-dormitory near Delhi, Louisiana. The tradition began in 2005 when a parishioner from Oak Grove Parish took Watson, who was at the time the pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Monroe, to an abandoned schoolhouse in Pioneer, a small town off Highway 17. There he found migrant workers who were living in the schoolhouse while they were planting and harvesting sweet potatoes at a nearby farm. He asked how he could help; they said they needed clothes, so he organized a clothing drive at his parish. He went back with some parishioners, and they distributed the clothes and celebrated Mass. That first year, he said Mass in Spanish at the schoolhouse five times.

Watson did the same thing for a group of migrant workers living in an abandoned nursing home in Tallulah. For the last three years, they have celebrated Mass for the workers at the converted packing shed, which is blessedly air-conditioned, in Delhi. The Mass now has a choir, and Bishop Duca celebrates Mass while a bi-lingual priest delivers the homily. Quiroz attends, along with many, many others. “They are always surprised to see the Bishop,” Watson said. “It’s a way of showing the workers how important they are.”

And they are, indeed, important. As the U.S. Bishops and the Bishops of Mexico stated in a pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” “We speak as one Church, united in the view that migration is necessary and beneficial…Migrants and immigrants are in our parishes and in our communities. In both our countries, we see much injustice and violence against them and much suffering and despair among them because civil and church structures are still inadequate to accommodate their needs.”

Hispanic Ministry Staff: Marcos Villalba, Bishop Michael G. Duca, Jeanne Brown, Fr. Rothell Price, Rosalba Quiroz

Hispanic Catholic Ministry is one way the Diocese of Shreveport and other dioceses around the country are combating injustice, violence, suffering and despair by offering spiritual support along with information and resources to help immigrants obtain legal residency status.

If you would like to help the Hispanic Catholic Ministry, they are in dire need of bilingual individuals who can help translate. To learn more, contact Director Rosalba Quiroz at (318) 868-4441 or

Dioceses Hold Masses, Pilgrimages, Meetings Through October

WASHINGTON — Catholic dioceses across the country began holding events about the need for immigration reform September 8. The events are meant to highlight the urgency of the issue and to show Congress the broad support in the Catholic community for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

“Now is the time for Catholics to let their elected officials know that they support immigration reform,” said Archbishop José Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. “We are an immigrant Church and an immigrant nation. The Church has grown with the nation and since the beginning has helped integrate immigrants into our culture and economy.”

Masses and events will be held in 22 states. Cities holding Masses and events the weekend of September 8 included Los Angeles; Brooklyn, New York; Chicago; San Francisco; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Tampa Bay, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; Cincinnati; St. Louis; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Miami; Hartford, Connecticut; Kansas City, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Arlington, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Salt Lake City and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Other events during the two-month period include pilgrimages and educational events, such as public forums. Materials highlighting Church teaching on immigration reform will be distributed in many dioceses. Bishops, diocesan officials and parish representatives also will be meeting with their House members to convey the Catholic Church’s position on immigration reform. Additional Masses and events will be announced as information becomes available.

A listing of scheduled events can be found at:

Pope Francis: War is Always a Defeat for Humanity

by Vatican Information Services

VATICAN CITY –  More than 100,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square on September 7 in response to Pope Francis’ appeal during the Sunday Angelus in which he called for September 7 to be a day of fasting and prayer for peace in the light of the dramatic circumstances which have engulfed Syria. Since then, this initiative has been welcomed and applauded not only by Catholics and other Christian confessions, but also by those belonging to other religions, from Buddhists to Jews and Muslims, and even those who do not belong to any religion. That week saw extensive mobilization on the part of parishes and associations, Caritas and the Community of St. Egidio, prayer groups and religious orders such as the Descalced Carmelites of the Holy Land, mayors and presidents of autonomous regions, organizations for peace, co-operation and development, unions and so on. Many prominent figures joined in with the initiative, such as the architect Renzo Piano, the president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz and the Grand Mufti of Syria, spiritual leader of the Sunnis, who invoked peace that afternoon in the Ummayad Mosque, Damascus, with the nation’s religious leaders. A prayer for peace was raised that afternoon in Catholic churches around the world, from Australia to Egypt.

The Pope began by praying the Rosary; each mystery was accompanied by the reading of a poem by St. Therese of Lisieux about the child Jesus, and at the end he invoked Maria: “Queen of Peace, pray for us.”
Following the Pope’s words, a moment of silence was observed during the preparation of the altar for the exposition of the Holy Sacrament. The adoration was accompanied by a biblical reading on the theme of peace, followed by the Pope’s prayer on this subject and a responsorial invocation as a plea for peace.

Bishop Duca Honored Alumnus

The University of Dallas National Alumni Board has announced its annual list of distinguished alumni. The 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award recipients, who will be honored during a reception and dinner on Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Las Colinas Country Club, are Bishop Michael Duca, Michelle Accardi and Sonia Kirkpatrick. Michael Schwartz will be recognized posthumously.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards recognize University of Dallas alumni who have demonstrated sustained, distinguished accomplishment and contribution to any field of human endeavor. The award is the highest honor the university can bestow on an alumna or alumnus.

Catholic Diocese of Shreveport Bishop Michael Duca has dedicated his life to making the Gospel accessible to others, especially through his ministry to young adults. Prior to answering Pope Benedict XVI’s call to lead the Shreveport diocese, he was rector of Holy Trinity Seminary, which he attended from 1970-78. During his time there, he earned Bachelor’s and Master of Divinity degrees from the university in 1974 and 1978.

For ticket and event sponsorship information, contact Director of Alumni & Donor Relations Leah Looten at 972-721-5133, or visit . A significant portion of event proceeds will support scholarship opportunities for University of Dallas students.

The University of Dallas in Irving, TX, is widely considered to be one of the most academically rigorous Catholic universities in America.

Family Endows Catholic Nursing Scholarship

The Coutee family created the Marla Coutee Thurman Memorial Scholarships in Nursing in memory of their daughter.

Two Northwestern State University alumni contributed $100,000 to be utilized for endowed scholarships in memory of their daughter, also a graduate of Northwestern State. The Marla Renee Coutee Thurman Endowed Memorial Scholarships will be presented to Catholic students pursuing careers in nursing. Ellis and Juanita Martinez Coutee of Baton Rouge established the scholarships in memory of Thurman, a registered nurse who worked for Willis-Knighton Health System in Shreveport for 27 years. Thurman passed away April 2, 2013, after a short battle with cancer.

In addition to being of the Catholic faith, full-time nursing students considered for the scholarships must maintain a B grade point average.  Preference will be given to students from Caddo, Sabine, Rapides, Natchitoches and East Baton Rouge Parishes.

“Marla’s priorities were God, her family and nursing,” said Juanita Coutee, speaking of her daughter’s devotion to her patients, including those in her own family.  “Marla’s dedication to her chosen profession of nursing inspired her husband and he subsequently attended NSU and is now a nurse. We hope the scholarships will bring many more dedicated, caring persons to nursing.”

Thurman earned a degree in nursing at Northwestern State in 1986 and married Michael Thurman in 1988. The couple had two daughters. Thurman was a long-time member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Shreveport.

“Marla administered nursing health care to all the priests at St. Joseph Catholic Church. She would receive telephone calls throughout late afternoons and up to 10 p.m. asking her to come to the rectory to administer shots, take blood pressures and other assistance as needed,” Mr. Coutee said of his daughter.

Fr. Karl Daigle or Fr. Lombard frequently visited Marla’s home just across the street from the church and prayed with Marla, gave her Communion and administered the Anointing of the Sick.

“Before Marla passed away, we visited her at her home and decided to create a scholarship for the College of Nursing, regardless of the outcome of her illness,” Ellis Coutee said.  “She had strong feelings about her faith. She was a devout Catholic and we decided to give preference to Catholic students, as well as preference to students who want to become registered nurses and do what Marla did.”

For more information on the scholarships or to make a contribution, call the Northwestern State Alumni Center at (318) 357-4414 or visit

by Leah Jackson, Northwestern State University

Pumpkin Patch

October brings a stunning spray of orange that covers the lawn of Mary, Queen of Peace Church in South Bossier. The parishioners of Mary, Queen of Peace, under the leadership of Deacon Michael Straub, are hosting the 3rd annual Pumpkin Patch in an effort to support the church’s various youth programs.

Fellowship abounds as community members pile in and peruse the patch for that perfect, picturesque pumpkin. Please consider visiting our patch if it’s a pumpkin you are pondering. We are located on Barksdale Blvd., five miles south of the Jimmie Davis Highway in Bossier City. We would love to help you and appreciate you helping our youth! We will be in place for the duration of October, even through Halloween evening.

And don’t forget our Pumpkin Patch Carnival on Saturday, October 26th from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., only $3 admission for all the trunk or treating, gaming and playing the children can stand. We will also have burgers and hot dogs, cotton candy and other goodies. Enjoy all the fun activities and be sure to visit our new craft booth for interesting gift ideas. Come join us for the annual fun, and don’t forget to wear your costumes!

For more information, please call the Mary, Queen of Peace Church Office at 318-752-5971.

by Donna Grimaldi

Catholic Center Houses Historic Statues

Sacred Heart of Jesus statue

The diocese has acquired many donations of statues, framed prints and works of art depicting religious scenes or individuals honored by the Church.

One of the most prominent and well known statues and part of the “old St. Vincent School and Motherhouse” is the metal statue in bronze finish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that graced the circular drive on St. Vincent Avenue. Generations of Catholics and non-Catholics alike are aware of the statue. For the last number of years the statue resided on Flournoy Lucas Road at the last location for the Convent of the Daughters of the Cross. When Sister Maria Smith and Sister Lucy Scallan moved several months ago to the Montclair Residence, “Jesus came home” – back to the circle drive in front of the present day Fairview House on Fairview Avenue where Bishop Duca and several priests of the diocese reside.

The statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that was part of the Lady of Lourdes grotto at St. Vincent Academy found a home in an inside courtyard of the Chancery Offices. We have begun to landscape this area. Another beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother depicted as Our Lady of Grace is located in the Bishop’s courtyard of the Fairview House. The pedestal is actually a marble piece from atop the marble altar at the old St. Vincent Chapel that is now at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.

As you move around the building to the entrance near the Porte Cache, there is a recent addition of a marble statue of the Virgin Mary praying that was originally purchased and given as a gift to Notre Dame Academy in Shreveport by the graduating class of 1982. There are plans for a small rose garden adjacent to this area.

To the left of the Catholic Center entrance is a monument to unborn children. A dedication and blessing of this monument was held on May 4 at the Catholic Center by the Diocesan Pro-Life Council and presided over by Fr. Rothell Price. The monument consists of a granite plaque depicting the Holy Family and a plea to pray for unborn children. It was donated by Robert Pedemonti, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Pines Church.

St. Vincent de Paul statue

On the front of the East Wing of the Catholic Center facing Fairfield Avenue is a very nice marble statue of St. Vincent de Paul. St. Vincent de Paul was a contemporary of St. Frances de Sales who was the founder of the Women’s Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary.  St. Frances is responsible for several writings on spiritual direction and spiritual formation including the “Introduction to the Devout Life” which became the rule for the Daughters of the Cross. St. Frances is credited with being instrumental in the establishment of the Order of the Daughters of the Cross.  In 1620 he is said to have told the foundress, Madame L’Hullier de Villeneuve “there is a vacancy in the church…”  The Daughters of the Cross were one of the first non-cloistered orders founded in 1641 in Paris, France.  St. Vincent de Paul became the director of the order upon the death of St. Frances de Sales.

If you are interested in donating a piece of art or statuary to the Diocese of Shreveport, please contact Randy Tiller, Director of Mission Effectiveness to discuss the donation and place it among the many art objects that adorn both the inside halls and grounds of the Catholic Center.

by Randy Tiller, Director of Mission Effectiveness

Youth Experienced Joy and Love on Haiti Mission Trip

The rambling concrete structures radiate heat. The sun is high and brighter than I have ever seen, penetrating even my shaded eyes. There is a dusty haze in the air, a product of poor roads and vehicle traffic that rarely sleeps. The back of my shirt sticks to my unyielding seat and the school bus is pulling up to the orphanage. I am in Haiti and not quite sure what I’ve gotten myself into.

We, the youth of St. Joseph Church in Shreveport, are ordered out of the bus and cross a pothole-riddled street. Our guides lead us through a rusty iron gate and down a wide alleyway littered with rubble and a few unattended vehicles. Shadowy faces stare from the recesses of concrete houses – it’s too hot to be outside without need. A few children and an older woman sit beneath a makeshift tent to my left, surrounded by their livelihood of storage crates and roaming chickens. We approach our destination, a multiple-storied apartment. We enter through the courtyard gate and march up a flight of stairs.

The kids are young and enthusiastic. They give their best renditions of “Jesus Loves Me,” and a few other spirituals. I smile large and try to blend in with the group. “What am I supposed to do?” races through my mind. I don’t know.

A while later, I am back outside in the courtyard. A few of the girls in our group are playing with the younger girls while two soccer balls bounce around the courtyard. I move to the edge of the yard and stare into the dump behind the apartment where the goats graze lazily through the trash; yep, not much here.

The kids are slowly warming up to the others. A handful of little boys approach me, their large eyes inquisitive. I turn my attention to them and attempt to engage their interests. The language barrier makes this difficult, so I try to appeal to more universal modes of communication. I take off my hat and sunglasses and appeal to a language all little boys know: Karate. They are familiar with Jackie Chan. Before I know what’s happening, I have started a brawl. We play-fight with reckless abandon and I soon realize how horribly out of shape I am. I go down beneath the collective ferocity of four 10-year-olds after giving it my best effort. The play-fighting evolves into a game of piggy-back soccer. Their energy is contagious. We play until we’re all ready to collapse into heaps of formless jelly.

What have I gained from this? I think the beauty of a place has little to do with the sights there are to see. Beauty comes from joy, and joy springs from people who joyfully seek out others. The kids were joyful to see us, and not because we came bearing gifts; we brought only our gifts of self. In allowing ourselves to be open to them, we gained something utterly immeasurable. They possessed something in their poverty that I struggled to keep in my excess: a reminder of what is truly important, because I need constant reminders of the importance of communion.

by John Parker

Catholic Charities: Offering Legal Advocacy to Low Income Immigrants

Now that the U.S. Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill and the U.S. House of Representatives is also considering the issue, many are optimistic that meaningful reform is within reach. The Senate proposal involves comprehensive reform with an earned path to citizenship, while the House would rather do it piecemeal, emphasizing enforcement with no path to legal status or citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals currently in the U.S.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports comprehensive reform similar to the Senate proposal, which includes an earned path to legalization, permitting foreign-born workers to enter the country safely and legally, an increase in the number of family visas available and reduction in waiting times for family reunification, addressing the root causes of illegal immigration, such as under-development and poverty and humane enforcement policies.

In his 1995 Annual Message for World Migration Day, Pope John Paul II reminded us of Jesus’s words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt. 25:35), and stated: “Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”

Although there are legitimate areas of reasonable disagreement, there is general consensus that our current immigration laws do not reflect our values and reform is needed. According to a recent survey by the USCCB Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, 77% of Catholic voters support an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the country.

Catholic Charities of Shreveport opened its Immigration Integration Program in 2011. In accordance with our mission to bring Christ’s message of love to the poor and vulnerable by providing quality social services to people without discrimination and in accordance with Catholic Social Teachings and professional standards, we offer legal advocacy and assistance to low income immigrants of the Diocese of Shreveport. English as Second Language (ESL) and citizenship preparation classes are also offered. Over 200 individuals have been helped to obtain documentation and meet basic needs in order to more fully integrate into society.

One undocumented client came to us as a high school junior. She was pregnant and had to drop out of school. We were not only able to get her an employment authorization card, but through Gabriel’s Closet, our program for low-income moms and their babies, we provided her with supplies for her newborn baby. The long range effects of this help for this family are the reason we work so hard to give assistance to our immigrant neighbors.

Please show your support for just and compassionate reform by visiting and sending a postcard to your congressional representatives. Call Catholic Charities of Shreveport at 318-865-0200 for more information and volunteer opportunities.

by Briana Bianca, Catholic Charities

Local Teens Attended World Youth Day

Catholics around the world rejoiced as they tuned in to watch the events of World Youth Day and Pope Francis in Brazil. While most of us were thrilled to watch the events from afar, three local Catholic youth were fortunate to make the trip to Brazil. Alfonso Vaca, 18, Maria Vaca, 16, and Ashley Hughes, 17, all members of St. Jude Church in Bossier City, joined two sisters, a priest and a group of 20 college students from University of Louisiana in Lafayette to make the trip to Brazil.

Prior to attending World Youth Day, the group spent a week at an orphanage run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows in Fortaleza, Brazil. All three were deeply moved by the experience. While they worked on mowing grass and improving the orphanage structure, they stayed with the Our Lady of Sorrows sisters in their convent.

The hearts and joy of the children who lived at the orphanage deeply affected them.

“I think the first week being with the children, seeing how open they were to us and easily loving us no matter what and how simple they were really taught me a great lesson about simplicity and humbleness,” said Ashley.

“The kids loved us before we even knew them,” added Maria. “They were there with us helping us work. They would ask us, ‘Are you my friend?’ ‘Will you be my friend?’ ‘Do you love me?’”

One of the most joyful experiences for them was how much the children rejoiced in the simplicity of life: the joy of sharing a basket of fruit, stepping back to let their guests eat before them without being told and dancing with tears in their eyes for them before the missionaries departed.

Following the week of working in the orphanage, the group traveled to Rio de Janeiro to participate in World Youth Day.

Ashley Hughes, Maria Vaca and Alfonso Vaca at World Youth Day in Brazil.

In the morning, they had the option of attending one of many catechetical sessions. Each session took place at a different church and they were divided up by language.
Their evenings were free, but there were lots of concerts and events they could attend.

Alfonso said one of his favorites was the session on vocations. “It was like a mini Steubenville. It was pretty cool because we went all the way to the front row and there were lots of speakers talking about vocations, marriage and single life. And then we had adoration. The special thing about adoration was that the monstrance was one of six blessed by Pope John Paul II for vocations. It was so beautiful.”
Other events included a performance by Jesse Manibusan, who recently performed at Steubenville South. Matt Maher was also there to perform and knew someone from the ULL group, which made the event extra exciting.

They also got to see Pope Francis. He passed by in his car very near them twice, and they saw him speak many times. Both Alfonso and Maria speak Spanish and were thrilled that the Pope spoke in Spanish during his homilies. There were also translation radios available for non-Spanish speakers.

“What the pope said was very touching,” said Maria. “He said we should be playing on Jesus’ team. He said we’re going to win something better than the World Cup, we’re going to win heaven.”
“The pope said I want you to go home and make a mess, stir things up,” added Alfonso. “And now at my school we’re pushing really hard to start a pro-life club because we need to stir things up and make noise. It was so inspiring.”

They also had adoration with Pope Francis, “It was really cool because at one point everyone was so quiet that you could only hear the waves of the ocean,” said Ashley.

One of the biggest impacts on their faith though, was the group of college students they traveled with. At the end of each day they would all gather back together for dinner and share their experiences.
“It was really cool how they just let us in,” said Ashley. “We were the only high school students and they were all college students. We were really just like a family right from the start. We just kept getting closer and closer. There was never any tension or drama.”

“With this group, the people we went with were so Catholic… Some were seminarians and many were discerning religious life and priesthood. It was great because they were so excited to go to Mass and afternoon prayer,” said Alfonso.

When asked about what they took away from the experiences of working with the orphanage and attending World Youth Day, Alfonso was quick to respond: “It was really about learning how to live our Catholic faith, not just learning about our Catholic faith. With the sisters, they washed all the dishes, made all our food and they were serving us all the time. They showed us the joy of serving others and it does put living your faith into perspective,” said Alfonso.

Alfonso added,  “My youth minister explained to me that “catholic” means universal. And I didn’t really understand that until I went to World Youth Day. Everyone was at the beach holding different flags and speaking different languages and all for one reason. We’re from different places, but we’re the same.”

by Jessica Rinaudo, Editor