Photos by Peter G. Sánchez
On Friday, April 29, NET Ministries visited St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights, meeting with school and religious education students. Above left, Alan Kremer and Angela Scotti welcome the youth; at right, Drew McDaniels entertains the crowd with music.
HADDON HEIGHTS — The 10 young adults, just arrived at St. Rose of Lima Parish here on Friday, April 29, relaxed in the parish lounge, looking like ordinary young adults: laughing, taking good-natured jabs at each other, wearing casual shirts, jeans and flip flops. Their mission, however, has been extraordinary.
On the road since September, traveling in a 12-passenger van with a small trailer, they showed no signs of weariness before leading a retreat for 70 seventh-grade religious education and St. Rose of Lima School students.
The 10 are one of the evangelization teams sponsored by NET (National Evangelization Team) Ministries, a Minnesota-based youth ministry organization that travel throughout the United States to speak to youth at schools and parishes.
In 2010-11, 110 trained young adults have spoken to 70,000 youth in 38 states and 91 dioceses in the United States. NET also serves in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico and Germany.
In the past nine months, Team 7 (out of 10 national evangelization teams) has led six retreats a week in dioceses in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Rhode Island, Indiana, West Virginia and New Jersey.
The team comprises young adults of different ages and backgrounds: Drew McDaniels, 19, California; Stacy Butler, 22, Texas; John DeLozier, 18, Minnesota; Joseph Moreno, 27, California; Caitlyn Maksymiak, 19, Illinois; Elizabeth Ramon, 19, California; Rob Batch, 22, New Jersey; Jenny Rohde, 24, Texas; Alan Kremer, 19, Ohio; and Angela Scotti, 23, California.
From April 26 to May 3, besides St. Rose, they led retreats for youth at St. Gabriel the Archangel, Carneys Point; Our Lady of Peace, Williamstown; Our Lady of Lourdes, Glassboro; and St. Mary Magdalen, Millville.
After mingling and games on the school blacktop, the retreat moved into personal testimonies and talks on the importance of the Catholic faith, consistent with the day’s theme of “Why faith?” It then branched out into small, faith-sharing groups.
At the end of the day, the NET team prayed over the youth, and St. Rose of Lima pastor, Father Joseph Byerley, celebrated Mass for the youth and the NET team.
“We spend all the time we want to on Facebook, but we don’t have five minutes to read the Bible,” remarked Net leader Rob Batch, speaking to the youth. He quoted Deuteronomy: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Telling his own story, Batch said that he didn’t realize how much he needed God until he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, destroying the vehicle but, miraculously, only suffering cuts and bruises.
“I realized then and there that I needed Christ in my life,” he told the audience gathered in the school gym. “Are you taking advantage of the help he’s willing to give you?”
Batch asked the day’s question again, and answered it. “Why faith? Why not?”
Batch, a High Bridge, N.J., native who is taking a year off from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio to be on the NET team, has seen not only spiritual growth in the youth he’s speaking with, but his own personal growth.
Every day for at least an hour, the team prays together, keeping the faith and fellowship alive in a group where, in the midst of nine months on the road in a van, staying with different parishes and host families, relationships can be tested.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs, living on the road with a community of people, but it’s been a good experience,” Batch said. “You learn a lot about yourself and those you meet along the way, be they fellow team leaders, host families or youth, and appreciate this opportunity to grow stronger in your faith life.”
Joseph Moreno remembers what it’s like to be a disaffected youth. Last March he had a conversion back to the Catholic Church after being gone eight years.
“I used to be that kid, I tried to live life on my own, without Jesus, and got nowhere fast,” he said.
Telling his story, he said he knows he’s helped others.
“It’s very enlightening, seeing youth come in, just angry at the world, not wanting to be there, sent by their parents, and in a matter of six hours, they’ve changed.”
Angela Scotti, a 2010 graduate of Franciscan University, has a degree in catechetics and theology.
“It’s been really rewarding, to see God and his love for everyone, how he pursues the young people we’ve encountered, whether they’re open to him or not,” she said. “Reaction from the youth (to NET) has been positive. There is a change in their attitude toward the Lord, who is always working.”
“These young adults give up nine months to evangelize and witness to their faith in Jesus,” said Father Byerley. “Their tremendous energy and enthusiasm inspired the students.”
Young adult Catholics ages 18 to 28 are eligible to apply to be NET leaders. For more information, visit www.netusa.org