Lay missionaries: Have calling, will travel

Postcard from Bolivia

Young lay missionaries who travel overseas to fulfil their calling return home with a strong sense of spiritual and emotional satisfaction.

— Catholic News Service

Before Connor Bergeron, of Reston, Virginia, left to serve as a lay missionary in Bolivia, he wasn't sure how the experience would impact his life, other than soaking in the excitement and intrigue of living abroad.

After graduating from college, Mr Bergeron was looking for an experience that would help him tie together what he had learned in school with some practical understanding of the world beyond his American upbringing.

At first, he considered teaching English in a foreign country.

However, after consulting with a parish priest, he looked into doing a year of missionary work, went on the Catholic Volunteer Network website and found a program with the Salesian Lay Missioners that appealed to him. He set off for Yapacani, Bolivia, in the summer of 2014.

Mr Bergeron knew he would be using his experience crafting video stories in his work at the Salesian-owned radio and television station, and that he would be teaching Bolivian children and serving as an English translator in the Spanish-speaking country.

"My family and friends didn't know what I was signing up for and to be honest, I didn't know exactly either," he said. "Which was fine. Because this is something I was being called to."

The work was hard and the transition to living in rather primitive conditions was challenging, he said, yet Mr Bergeron immediately found the mission rewarding.

When he returned to the US 16 months later, he felt like he had grown emotionally and spiritually.

This is not an uncommon outcome for young Catholic lay missionaries, said Jim Lindsay, executive director of the Catholic Volunteer Network.

"These missions are incredibly important to the Church because it is an opportunity for young people to put their faith into action," said Amy Rowland, program co-ordinator for community service through the Office of Campus Ministry at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

"It is an opportunity to grow closer to God, to broaden their horizons, and to evaluate what is important to them in life before embarking on their careers," Ms Rowland told Catholic News Service.

Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, the Catholic Volunteer Network is one of the United States' largest Catholic co-ordinators of mission trips and the organisation had 2668 lay missionaries serving within the US for nine months or longer during 2014-2015 and 428 serving for the same amount of time internationally, Mr Lindsay told CNS.

The Catholic University of America, just one of hundreds of Catholic colleges in the US, has anywhere from 15 to 30 students annually commit to doing a long-term volunteer mission after graduation, Ms Rowland said.

Photo: Lay Catholic missionary Connor Bergeron, centre back row, poses in this 2015 photo with people he served during his 16 months of working with the Salesian Lay Missioners in Yapacani, Bolivia (Bergeron, CNS)

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Lay missionaries find purpose and spiritual growth during work abroad

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