Students at St. Anastasia School in Fort Pierce enjoy lunch with Jaime Sanchez, center, a visiting missionary from Texas, who is a member of the National Evangelization Team. Sanchez, 21, is one of nine missionaries who will be living and serving in the St. Anastasia community over the next year. (PHOTOS BY LINDA REEVES | FC)

Missionaries hope to invigorate faith

FORT PIERCE  |  In welcoming nine young missionaries, the pastor of one of the diocese’s oldest parishes hopes their spiritual efforts will spark a resurgence of faith amongst those who might be struggling with confusion and hardened hearts.

“(The missionaries) are gifted in all different areas. They will evangelize the parents and kids, and walk with them in prayer, assist with sacramental work and be present at Mass,” said Father Richard George, pastor of St. Anastasia Parish in Fort Pierce. “They were given tools, and the biggest tool in their tool box is trust.”

Father George was speaking about the nine guest missionaries ages 18 to 30 representing the National Evangelization Teams ministry (NET) who arrived in Florida Sept. 17. He is excited about being one of only six pastors across America to be selected to receive assistance from a national ministry to help him with his parish’s mission and lifelong work of evangelization, education, formation and outreach to continue to build the Lord’s Church. The trained missionary team under his direction is now aimed at targeting various “mission fields” in Fort Pierce, including St. Anastasia Parish and School, John Carroll High School, Juan Diego Center, which serves the Hispanic community, and area families and individuals, and children and young adults.

“They are in love with God,” Father George said. “They have received the call. They heard it and they are responding in openness.”

Jennifer M. Trefelner, director of institutional advancement at John Carroll High School, said, “These young men and women will help serve as role models for our students and help them on their faith journey. I am looking forward to watching the NET team and our students learn and grow during the year, and to see them live their lives for Christ.”

The missionaries come from all walks of life, have different skills and education and are from various destinations including England and Spain. The groups are volunteering to serve as evangelists and witnesses of faith over the next year. They do receive a small stipend for needs.

NET Ministry, a nonprofit organization established 35 years ago in Minnesota, is under the ecclesiastical observance of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The organization has a national board of directors and is supported through donations, program fees and grants. It is made possible through the help of young volunteers, who give up their time and leave their families, schooling and friends behind to participate in ministry training and then serve as part of one of NET’s teams.

“We are one of only two parishes in Florida to be receiving a NET (parish) team,” said Joanna Marazzi, a St. Anastasia youth program coordinator and communications specialist, who grew up in the parish that currently serves 900 families. Marazzi graduated from St. Anastasia School, where her children are enrolled. The school currently serves 523 students, and the parish has 35 students in religious education programs and 33 students in formation to receive the sacrament of confirmation.

“We are excited about the NET team coming here,” she said. “The youths are an important part of our parish and evangelization. The (members of the NET team) will be immersing themselves here on our campus to serve the church as well as at St. Anastasia School and John Carroll High School. Many families in our parish are taking turns opening up their homes to serve as host families for the NET Team.”

NET ministry has two types of ministry teams with different jobs, but all volunteers give nearly a year of their lives in the name of service and with aims at building the Church and bringing people closer to God, especially children and teens.

NET’s traveling ministry teams make short visits to dioceses and archdioceses presenting retreats and programs and ministering to young people and their families. NET’s parish team ministry that began 10 years ago sends missionaries to parishes to actually stay and become part of the parish family and community. The missionaries live with host families, moving from house to house every two weeks for nearly a year and really get to know the community up close and personal.

After completing service time here, the young people will head back to schools, former jobs and new vocations. Marta Massegu, 30, the oldest team volunteer, is from Barcelona, Spain. “This is my first time in America,” she said. “It is wonderful. I have been on missions in Peru. I am a teacher and psychologist.”

Massegu told us that she heard God calling her to missionary work and decided to take a year off to volunteer her time. “My spiritual director told me about NET. I want to bring what I learn back to Spain.”

Next year, St. Anastasia will be served by a brand-new NET team that will come to the parish to serve as part of the three-year program. The NET program concludes the following year with another team of young evangelists prepared to engage the youths and others in a relationship with Jesus through evangelization and discipleship.

Missionary Austin Redington, 18, is from Orlando. He has five siblings, served in youth ministry at his parish and wants to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. He is fluent in Spanish and served as a translator during three medical mission trips to Guatemala. “NET teams reach 80,000 youths in a year,” he told the Florida Catholic. “We get to know the people and the families. We hang out with them. NET team members are aimed at being good examples and providing witness of faith. We hope to inspire others.”

We observed Austin interacting with students at St. Anastasia School. It is amazing how the young man, a sports enthusiast who enjoys singing and playing the piano and gaming with his friends, fits in with the students some not that much younger than he is. He talked on their level, and the youngsters included him in conversations and treated him like a buddy and fellow classmate.

Austin was sitting with a large group of boys during lunch break when we visited the school. Next to him at the outdoor picnic table was Justin McGaw, 9. “I want to ask the NET team to come to my Halloween party,” he said. “Ever since I met them at church, I feel like they are like my best friends.”