This summer 60 Latino young adults participated in a vocational discernment program called Abre tu Corazón sponsored by the Consejo Hispano of the Archdiocese of Chicago. They explored vocational options through a series of talks by priests and religious men and women.
Surveys from that group reveal that 44 percent have considered priesthood or religious life. Additionally, 66 percent said they know a peer who would be an excellent priest or religious. And a full 86 percent said they wanted more information about vocational opportunities.
As a follow-up, seven from this group traveled to western Michigan for a hands-on, missionary immersion experience.
The field trip, which allowed them to work alongside missionary sisters who minister to farmworkers in the Diocese of Kalamazoo, was organized by Catholic Extension. The goal of the trip was to help these young adults see firsthand the life of a missionary and to understand the Church’s role in rural America, particularly with migrant communities.
Engaging Hispanic Catholics in Chicago
Vicente Del Real arrived from Mexico to Chicago at age 15 and wanted to increase opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Church. In 2010, he founded a group to evangelize young people called Iskali, meaning “to resurge or begin again” in the Aztec language. The group has 450 members, ages 18 to 34, who meet weekly in 10 parishes throughout the city.
“We want to create a space for young adults to encounter God,” he said. “We encourage Hispanics to participate in the Church and want to be a place of transformation.”
Del Real is pursuing a master’s degree in theology at Catholic Theological Union of Chicago and is assistant director of the archdiocesan Consejo Hispano. He helped create the summer vocations program and led the field trip.
The Church in the fields
The four Colombian sisters who serve the farmworkers of the Diocese of Kalamazoo are Missionary Sisters of the Divine Spirit. Sponsored by Catholic Extension’s Exchange Program for Latin American Sisters, they are among 39 women religious from 12 congregations who serve Hispanic communities in remote parishes throughout the country.
In Kalamazoo, migrant farmworkers come for six months to pick the state’s crops. Annually 20,000 workers and their families travel to the diocese’s migrant camps for the harvest.
The sisters visit about 300 migrant camps each year to offer religious education, pastoral care and arrange Masses at the camps.
“As Catholics, we have a mandate to be missionary and serve those in need,” said Sister Maryud Cortés, who understands the migrants’ challenges. “We accompany these families.”
The sisters happily hosted the Chicago young adults because part of their mission in the United States is promoting religious vocations.
Discerning a missionary vocation
The young adults drove to San Felipe de Jesus Mission Church in Fennville, Michigan. After sharing Mass and lunch with parishioners, they headed to the fields to meet more farmworkers.
The participants were moved by how hard the migrants work, often 17 hours a day. “It’s hard when parents are always in the fields picking blueberries,” said Ariadna Nuñez. “Most people are just trying to survive.”
“I was impressed by how much love those small communities shared,” Kathia Ramirez said. “And they are very humble. I want to inspire people like they do.”
“This experience makes me consider being a missionary, one who can bring the light of God to the people,” said Nydia Cano. “I would love a discernment week with the sisters here because if God calls me to serve, I will be there.”
Miguel Avalos said, “It has made me want to become a priest even more.”
Sister Cortés, with the congregation for 12 years, talked to the group about her own vocation. “The Holy Spirit puts in our hearts the desire to serve,” she told them. “If God is calling you, listen.”