As our team arrived in Perris, California on a stifling 96-degree Saturday afternoon, I spotted four religious sisters scurrying around St. James the Less Catholic Church. Sr. Lourdes clutched her guitar and portable CD player, Sr. Maria Eva carried a pack of bottled water, and Sr. Rosario and Sr. Luz hugged families and individuals as they arrived to the church. Anywhere from 20-40 lay people join these sisters at least once a week to engage in a door-to-door evangelization ministry. This evangelical group goes out to poor neighborhoods, always with the goal to remind people that they are loved, and to welcome them to church. The sisters’ presence has ignited the spirit of the parishioners in this community, and I too was about to experience their contagious energy.
As more people arrived, Sr. Rosario led 40 parishioners in worship through song and dance. What better way to get you pumped up for an evening of neighborhood fellowship than a dancing nun?
This was followed by a time of prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe as they asked for guidance in their mission. I had the chance to talk with a few people who were thankful to learn more about Catholic Extension and expressed their gratitude for the sisters’ presence in their church. Little did I know how much I would be thanking them later that evening for the experience they shared with me.
After a 10-minute drive to the chosen area for the day, groups of five or six roam the streets and approach each home explaining that they are Catholic and are eager to talk to them. Many homes are surrounded by gates, so the sisters will clang a rock against the metal to announce their arrival. Sr. Lourdes profoundly explained that she uses the same rock to knock on the gates every week as a reminder that a heart can be as hard as a stone without the love of God.
It was a blessing to see how many individuals came out of their homes to talk to the sisters and the lay leaders. A few admitted they were not Catholic, but shared their support for this lively group.
The groups’ faith was alive as they sang “misión, misión, misión” and “si, se puede” in support of each other. Strangers that drove by couldn’t help but wave and smile. Turns out even the local ice cream truck driver was Catholic.
We had the opportunity to talk with many of the parish families that explained they choose to spend their quality time together each week by participating in this ministry with the sisters. Everyone is full of hope, passion and commitment for their Catholic faith and desire to share it with others.
As everyone said their goodbyes that evening, they were enthusiastic about seeing each other again at Mass the next morning. As if this group wasn’t enough inspiration for my weekend trip, St. James the Less Church was overflowing with people on Sunday! A half hour before Mass started, the parish was packed with a standing room only crowd. Families set up their lawn chairs outside in the courtyards and on the sidewalks. Many individuals could be seen kneeling in prayer on the curb as missals were being distributed for all those that came. Apparently even more people come to the afternoon Mass!
I will admit that I often shed a few tears in my cubicle as I watch various inspiring videos come through the marketing department at Catholic Extension, but my personal experience in the diocese of San Bernardino will impact my faith for the rest of my life.
Please keep this vibrant community in your prayers as they continue to extend the Catholic Church! Lay leaders are essential for continuing the ministry of the church, and this group is thankful to have the sisters at St. James the Less for even more support!
Sr. Lourdes, Sr. Luz, Sr. Maria Eva and Sr. Rosario are four of the 35 nuns who are funded by Catholic Extension’s U.S. Latin American Sisters Exchange program. Their salaries will be paid for through 2019, and just in the beginning months of their placement, over $125,000 has already been granted as they transition to the United States from Latin America. Thank you to all of our donors for making these experiences a reality!