Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Seeing God in Uganda and Rom

Hello family in Christ!

It is so good to be back home with you. This last month I have been blessed with two awesome international adventures. I want to share a few of my experiences with you in regards to the mission in Uganda and on pilgrimage in Rome.

#1) God is doing big things in Uganda.

My primary task in Uganda was helping train and support a new generation of youth leaders and empower teens from villages in the Masaka region. The average age in Uganda is 15 years old. This is huge because it means if you can impact the young people in this country with the knowledge of God’s calling and power in them then you can change the course of their entire country (and I believe the entire world).

One of the individuals I met was 21-year-old Moses. When he was 17 he heard a call from God to work to awaken the fire of God in his peers. I participated in one event he ran in a rural parish. Many youth walked from well over an hour away to attend this full day of worship and teaching. The youth were hungry for the word of God. They worshiped with all their heart. I yearn for that kind of passion in our own church here in Everett.

We saw this everywhere we went. Whether it was when I was preaching to 1,500 of the top students in the country or speaking with just to 15 teens in a small group, the young people have full faith in God’s role in their life and belief in His big plans for the future. You can hear it in how they pray. In how the Christians carry themselves and speak in love to their non-Christian neighbors. The Church in Uganda is a Holy Spirit filled example for the rest of the world.

#2) God is about to do even bigger things in Uganda (and we get to be a partner).

The young people I worked with, no matter the village or town, all have big plans. We talked a lot about taking dreams to action. They had big dreams; to be a doctor or a lawyer so they could assist others, to learn the construction trade so they could hire other young people, to become a priest, to open an orphanage and school in their home village.

The catch is these same youth have challenges, many related to living in a rural region with a depressed economy, but they are not going to let that stop they from doing what they are called to. They have come up with numerous projects to collectively generate together the funds they need to take their dreams to action. All they need is the start up capital to make this happen.

I will be working with our teens to make that happen; the young people here in Everett partnering with the young people in Uganda.

The diocese, and in particular one pastor who oversees 24 parishes, sees the call of Christ to reach the scores of youth and young adults in the area (Matthew 18:5) and support professional youth ministers in Uganda. During my time there I worked alongside and helped continue to train a number of the volunteers who minister to youth in Masaka Diocese. Two of them in particular, Ronald and Francis, have been chosen as part of a pilot program in which ProjectYM, youth ministers in the U.S. (such as myself), and American parishes (like IC/OLPH) team up to fund a sustainable youth ministry program including a living wage for the minister while supplying continued training and support. This is a model that I believe represents the universality of the church and the call to support one another as a continuous church family. Please pray for Ronald and Francis! You will hear more in the future about our parish’s role in the program.

#3) God loves his church.

In Rome and Assisi we witnessed many wonders of the church. No, I’m not talking about the beautiful structures like St. Peter’s Basilica or the Sistine Chapel, I’m referring to the lives of the saints and the way God worked in their lives.

Our first stop was in Assisi, the home of St. Francis (namesake of Pope Francis) and St. Claire. Francis was the son of a wealthy merchant whose life changed when he heard the crucifix of the San Damiano chapel speak to him and say, “Francis, rebuild my church.” He radically cast off his wealth and birthright in order to experience the love and power of God through radical poverty and service. His spirituality of service to the poor and reliance to the will and providence of God led to rebirth of the faith in thirteenth century Italy and spread throughout the world via the Franciscan movement. Claire was the daughter of aristocrats who gave up a life in the highest layer of society to not only serve God but to radically expand the way in which women shared their gifts with the church and the world. Her faith and love of God was earth shattering, as demonstrated by many miracles, including incorruptibility, and my personal favorite in which her presence, boldly carrying a Eucharistic monstrance, was so profound it stopped and turned around an army of Saracens at the city gates who decided they would rather take their chances in a different city.

At so many churches we were able to celebrate mass or pray at the remains of great saints. Whether it was St. John Paul II, St. Phillip Neri, St. Monica, or Sts. Peter and Paul themselves, it is an immense blessing and a powerful experience to reflect on how Christ has transformed and used these individuals in His plan and ask for their intercession that that same power descends on us.

This is one of the great graces of pilgrimage.

We also learned of the immense was God has protected and guided his church. It is evident by the events of the last two millennia the role of the Holy Spirit as our head and guide.

#4) The history and legacy of our church are great.

Not only did we witness the spiritual legacy of the church, but the physical and historic legacy were also something one must see to believe.

St. Peter’s Basilica is a structure that aims to call one into the transcendent beauty of our Lord. St. John Lateran brings to life the feats and struggles of the Apostles. The ceilings of The Gesu and St. Ignatius, two Jesuit churches, were mind bending. The catacombs under the city tell the story of a people of full faith who lived for the resurrection of Christ.

Beauty is often the forgotten transcendental, but the art of the Catholic church refutes that. Not just in the amount, the scale, or the scope, but in the continued pursuit of better and better trying to join with God’s creator nature. The development of news styles and technique through the centuries is apparent, and it was Christians in the churches who were making these great strides. Not only that though, through our fantastic guide, Dr. Elizabeth Lev of the Angelicum, we learned about the way brilliant theology was depicted in countless layers and artistic depth that all the guidebooks and art courses completely miss.

We witnessed the places where the martyrs changed the course of the world such as the
transformation of ancient Rome or the ending of the gruesome gladiator games.

The work of the church to shape the world for good is incredibly evident, from seeing the Vatican astronomical center (where among other science the observations that led to the Gregorian calendar occurred) and walking through the some of the numerous catacomb and convent halls that were used to hide Jews during World War II.

Thank you to all that helped make these journeys for our parishioners and I possible!

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