Missionaries to our children

Pope Francis consistently uses a “big” word: “Go!” Our Holy Father is calling all of us to be missionary disciples, to “go” to the margins of our culture and world and bring the Good News of God’s love and mercy revealed in Jesus. It is a baptismal call, this going, this serving, this being “for” and “with” others on this perilous journey called life. Pope Francis is simply repeating what Jesus said in sending us to do the work of the Church: evangelize.

I am deeply impressed with the SPIRITUS ministry in Menasha, Wisconsin. Young adults are doing what their confirmation calls them to do: Spread the Good News of the Gospel. They are giving retreats, living lives of prayer and study, attending daily Mass and setting aside a Holy Hour every day — all in response to Jesus’ call to “go.”

As far as I know, there is no other program in our country that has such a strong ministry and formation program as SPIRITUS. Under the leadership of Eden and Katherine Foord and a strong board and staff, the SPIRITUS ministry is truly unique and deserves replication. In a dialogue with Eden Foord, director of SPIRITUS, both the mission of SPIRITUS and the means by which that mission is being accomplished are abundantly evident.

Bishop Robert Morneau: What is SPIRITUS?

Eden Foord: SPIRITUS is a missionary disciple formation program. Our goals are to inspire thousands of Catholic youth and form lifelong missionary disciples to be leaders for the Church. Teams of young adult Catholics in their 20s serve nine months in the mission of Jesus, evangelizing Catholic youth through retreats and youth-ministry internships in parishes.

Bishop Morneau: Why do we need missionaries for our youth?

Foord: Most people are aware that each year many young adults leave the Catholic faith. Many youth see and follow this exodus out of the Church, many of whom have no real connection to or deep encounter with the Catholic faith. A recent CARA study reports that 63 percent of those who left the Faith stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17. Our youth desperately need to see the Faith being lived out by young adults. SPIRITUS missionaries are living examples of growing in holiness and spreading the Gospel of Jesus with passion. Through word and action SPIRITUS makes visible the joy of living the Faith. Their model of passionate discipleship attracts youth to the Church.

Bishop Morneau: What impact are the SPIRITUS missionaries having on the youth?

Foord: Each year SPIRITUS missionaries inspire over 5,000 youth on 160 daylong and overnight retreats. The focus of the retreats is to encounter the person of Jesus and the mystery of the Trinity in exciting and powerful ways. Most students report that their retreat was “awesome,” “fun” and “life-changing.” One powerful experience during the retreats is when the missionaries pray one-on-one with each student. Many students report that their first real encounter of God that was meaningful to them happened through the ministry of the SPIRITUS team.

Bishop Morneau: How are they being formed as lifelong missionary disciples?

Foord: Forming young adults to be leaders for the Church is an important goal of SPIRITUS, and we invest considerable resources into each missionary. Formation starts with a commitment to prayer. SPIRITUS missionaries spend two hours in prayer each day, totaling about 500 hours during their time of service. We provide formation classes where local bishops, priests, religious and lay ministers give talks on prayer, leadership, holiness, virtues, faith foundations and sharing the Gospel with joy. In addition to these 132 hours of formation classes, we equip our missionaries with 65 hours of ministry skills training and 450 hours of direct ministry.

Bishop Morneau: What impact does the SPIRITUS program have on the missionaries?

Foord: Each person that commits themselves to living and growing as a missionary disciple of Jesus has a life-changing experience through SPIRITUS. We see in each missionary an accelerated growth in the spiritual life as they are formed to be leaders in the Church. In the first seven years, SPIRITUS has prepared 61 young adults for leadership in the Church who, in turn, have inspired over 37,700 Catholic youth during their time on SPIRITUS. Seventy-five percent of former missionaries are working in ministry, and 10 have pursued priesthood or religious life after their time of service.

SPIRITUS is a ministry of the Mount Tabor Center. Courtesy photo

Bishop Morneau: What does SPIRITUS offer to the larger Church?

Foord: In a very intensive way, the SPIRITUS program forms young adults to be more than committed and active Catholics. They are formed to be missionaries who actively share Jesus and the Faith with thousands of youth during their year of service and beyond. SPIRITUS is a missionary discipleship model that is successful and having a dramatic impact on the Church of Wisconsin. The SPIRITUS leadership would like to offer this program to other dioceses, Catholic universities or religious orders.

Bishop Morneau: Why would a diocese or religious order be interested in SPIRITUS?

Foord: Pope Francis said, “I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.” Any diocese that desires to provide their young adults with more opportunities to live as missionaries and those who want to ignite the faith of their youth would be interested in starting their own SPIRITUS missionary team. Another reason to start SPIRITUS is that it prepares young adults for priesthood, religious life and lay ministries. Religious orders who operate a Catholic university would be ideal because they have many of the resources needed for SPIRITUS, especially relationships with college graduates who have a sense of mission.

Bishop Morneau: If a diocese or religious order was interested in starting their own SPIRITUS team, what would be the benefit and how could they get started?

Foord: The benefit of SPIRITUS is that you can inspire thousands of Catholic youth and give them role models of faith. Your diocese or region will have an ongoing dynamic missionary presence that transforms and invigorates the faith of others. You will be actively forming young adults for vocations to priesthood and religious life while forming leaders for the Church. We have created a model that can be reproduced in other areas of the country. Your organization will be provided with retreat content, administrative and recruiting tools, formation and training materials, development strategies and other documents that will make your missionary team successful.

Start by reviewing our website at www.spiritusministries.org. If you are interested, then contact Eden Foord at edenfoord@spiritusministries.org or by phone at 920-722-8918.

Bishop Morneau: What have you learned from founding and directing SPIRITUS?

Foord: Jesus gave us a powerful, intentional model in forming disciples to bring about the Kingdom, his mission here on earth. This process can be reproduced if we place Jesus and his mission at the center of our efforts. I have learned that God continues to call young people into the mission of the Church, and they need support and encouragement to answer this call. I have also learned that while working to form young adults is challenging, the Holy Spirit is powerfully transforming hearts that are open to God. Working with a dynamic missionary team will deepen and inspire your faith and the faith of all who encounter them.

Bishop Morneau: What is your hope for SPIRITUS?

Foord: My hope is to see SPIRITUS missionary teams sprout up around the country, giving young-adult Catholics missionary opportunities to inspire the faith of our youth. My hope is that our youth will be provided with young-adult role models who are striving to grow in holiness and equipped to share the Gospel and Catholic faith. My hope is that more young adults are provided with intensive formation and prayer routines that will make pursuing a vocation to religious life, priesthood and lay ministry the next natural choice. My hope is that Catholics around the country choose to invest in a missionary movement that will transform our youth and offer a dynamic process of furthering God’s kingdom in our beloved Church.

Bishop Morneau: The Church has many ministries: worship, education, social justice, stewardship ­— all extremely important. Then there are the ministries of evangelization and leadership, foundational to our Christian way of life and the future of the Church. SPIRITUS is a beacon of great hope. Young adults are being formed as spiritual leaders. Young adults are doing the mission of the Church: evangelization.

Over my 51 years of priesthood, I consider the ministry of SPIRITUS to be superb. Would that we had this model of leadership and formation in every state in our nation; would that thousands upon thousands of young adults could experience the power of the Holy Spirit that I have seen at work through SPIRITUS. Pope Francis, besides the great call to “go,” also has two others words that describe his vision: “encounter” and “accompany.” The SPIRITUS team assists our youth to encounter Jesus and accompany him as disciples. This is not just a hope; it is a reality. And my response: Deo gratias!

Bishop Robert F. Morneau is a retired auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and episcopal adviser to SPIRITUS.