The Encounter Experience

Multicultural dinner —
People pray at the multicultural pot luck dinner Aug. 9 at the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light Parish, Cherry Hill. The event was sponsored by the parish and the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Living as a missionary disciple is our call as baptized Catholics to “make a conscious, firm decision, carried out in action, to be followers of Jesus Christ no matter the cost,” say the U.S. bishops.

More and more, I am discovering that the best way to help young people understand each other in Eucharistic love is by providing opportunities to meet others. Confirmation students are participating in the Encounter Experience where they meet others they typically wouldn’t meet. As we make those decisions to encounter others, we are reminded of Jesus.

Recently, we co-hosted the Come to The Table Potluck with our friends from Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. The invitation went out to teens, parishioners, ministries, friends documented and undocumented, refugees and missionaries. One of our students hurriedly went home to share with her family. How exciting it was to sit at a table with many cultures where all were one.

There is something powerful in having two groups of people from different cultures, races and socioeconomic groups meet. By meeting each other we encounter Christ. Through encounter, we begin to see the value of each person: our brother, our sister, our God.

Often we don’t know people whose histories and stories are different from our own, or we live in isolated communities, causing us to see our differences rather than our connectivity. The encounter experience calls us to mission: it calls us as baptized Catholics to be a missionary people.

One way to make a conscious decision to grow in faith is by experiencing mission trips, which helps us to get away from our comfort zone, to meet our God beyond the boundaries, and also to get away from our luxuries while entering sacred spaces.

Catholic social teaching

Catholic social teaching helps us recognize the dignity of all people. This theme, through the mission experience, has been our goal with the youth of the parish. If we can capture the essence of this valuable teaching we would all be stretched eucharistically.

Mission calls us to recognize the dignity and sanctity of those among us, especially the poor and vulnerable. As Shannon Liz Rosa one of our youth missionaries stated, “We step away from the comforts of our lives and walk into the shoes of another culture.”

Liz will soon journey on her third mission trip to Jamaica.

Jennifer Chung shares, “The church is able to offer compassion, encounter justice as we experience solidarity and reconciliation together.”

In a few days, our parish will journey to Jamaica on our third missionary journey, through Mustard Seed Communities.

“We hope to bring back stories to share with you of the encounter experience,” as Jennifer Ramirez, one of the team, said.

“I want to go because I have never talked or interacted with the poor,” said Jeremy Taveras, another team member. “I have done work for them and donated but it’s not like I could name them. I feel as if Jamaica will open my world up. … I honestly cannot wait to go there to make people happy.”

When you travel you learn more about the people and cultures of the world. We must learn to live together while broadening our understanding of sociology, geography, policy and faith.

The group includes the pastor, justice and outreach director, youth minister, catechists, young adults and youth. We hope to stretch our faith, connect with our group, build character and spirituality, while understanding diversity. Join us next July for another opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters at Mustard Seed Communities.

Sherine O. Green is director of Youth Faith Formation, The Catholic Community of Christ Our Light, Cherry Hill.