Wauchula | Two Diocese of Venice young adults, Zachary Coronado and Anna Battaglia, have never actually met, but both have served as National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries members.
NET Ministries, based in Minnesota, challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the Church. Every August, approximately 175 young Catholics aged 18-28 to devote nine months to serving with NET.
Divided into 16 teams, NET teams travel across the United States for nine months to share the Gospel with young people and their families. Since 1981, NET teams have led more than 32,000 retreats and ministered to in excess of 2 million young Catholics. Each year more than a dozen NET groups visit the Diocese, and a Discipleship just recently completed a three-year visit to a parish in Naples.
Coronado, 22, of St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, was part of a NET group that worked solely in California, while Battaglia, 19, of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, worked in 13 states throughout the northeast U.S. from Maryland to Maine. They combined to work more than 130 retreats and traveled more than 14,000 miles.
As youths, both had been to NET retreats in the Diocese of Venice, and Battaglia also encountered teams while taking part in annual LIFE Teen retreats in Georgia.
Battaglia said being a NET member looked like so much fun but did not think about joining until after graduating from high school and not having any set plans. While she considered herself faithful, she was never into studying the Bible or felt she could share her own faith with others.
“I was praying about what to do,” she explained. “I knew I wanted to be a missionary but didn’t know how to do that. I asked our youth director, Mrs. (Colleen) Roca, who connected me with a girl at San Pedro Parish in North Port.”
That phone conversation solidified Battaglia’s idea about joining NET. So, she immediately applied, but had missed the application deadline. Signing up on a Tuesday, she was called nearly right away, and then flew to Minnesota a few days later for her in-person interview. “I was accepted the following Tuesday. It was just amazing.”
Coronado had taken years to build up his faith, including time studying in college, before feeling ready to become a missionary with NET. It was early in high school when he was an athlete and started to stray from the faith.
Tragedy struck when in 2011 when he was involved in a bad traffic crash returning from the Diocesan Youth Rally. He was injured, other family members were hurt, but his best friend, Adrian Rodriguez, was killed.
“I learned how God is truly merciful,” Coronado said of his feelings then and now. “I was into bad habits, but everything changed. I started to see my life and the world the way the Lord calls, finding the Lord’s good works in everything.”
Since that time, with the encouragement of his family, the priests and religious sisters at St. Michael’s, he has grown closer to the Lord and has tried to find a way to share this. He has considered entering seminary but did not feel ready until being a NET minister became a reality.
Both Coronado and Battaglia reflected on key moments from their nine months on the road. They gave retreats, mostly to high schoolers, which helped them, and the retreatants, grow closer to the Lord. Each noted that initially one of the most difficult challenges they faced was fitting in 30 minutes of required prayer time each day. By the end of their mission work, the prayer time was not nearly enough.
“I learned so much about my faith, and myself,” Battaglia said. “It was an intense experience… There were a few teary-eyed moments for me and for those we were helping to build a relationship with God.”
She cited small group time with just young ladies, when the discussion opened up and everyone was more relaxed with the NET members. This was the opportunity to have heart-to-heart talks about God and specifically how the Lord views women. “It was in those moments that I felt the presence of the Lord and knew I made the right decision to be a NET missionary.”
For Zachary, the experience of connecting with the retreatants came most frequently when he would ask to pray for someone. This was sometimes met with resistance and even some discomfort, but invariably this act can have an effect. “They are learning that someone cares and will pray for them and with them. That is powerful.”
In the fall, Battaglia plans to go to college in the fall and is already helping more at her parish. She also intends to assist in youth events wherever she can.
Coronado spent his summer helping with a variety of tasks during parish youth camps. After a short break, he is excited to be heading off for a second year as a NET member.
“I am on fire for Christ,” he explained. “I trust in God as I work to live the life God wants.” n