"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Example of Witnesses

by Christine Kaskiw


W HEN WE BOLDLY live our Catholic faith, Jesus' tender love and mercy reach out to touch those we meet.

The Catholic Church throughout the years has raised up many holy women and men of God as examples to inspire us in our faith. Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa are two modern day people who radically live the Gospel. They have surrendered their lives in faithful obedience to Jesus Christ, and this surrender has poured the victory of God's love, mercy and hope upon all those they serve.

These examples of faith have inspired us greatly, but perhaps even more importantly, the everyday examples of ordinary Catholics can inspire us to walk more closely with the Lord. These people include religious, parish priests, teachers, co-workers and parishioners.

In my own life, my faith really was sparked when I met a group of people who had decided that the most important thing in their lives was to follow Jesus. I was in rather desperate straights when I met them, and was willing to try anything... even faith.

This group was a community of Catholics who strived wholeheartedly to embrace Christ's call. The community's apostolate began with prayer, which strengthened them to offer service, particularly to the poor and downtrodden, offering them hospitality by opening their hearts to them and sharing their homes with them.[1]

This conviction caused families in the community to open their homes to anyone willing to live a Christian lifestyle. Many came and experienced the tender mercy of God for the first time in their lives. However some of these people needed special care which could not be provided in a family environment.

In 1980 the community approached the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Monsignor Norman Chartrand, with a request for a building to used as a rehabilitation centre. Mgsr. Chartrand responded by giving the community an old hospital. The community operated the Agape Centre for the next three years. The grace of God blessed the Centre and those who lived there were touched by the love of Jesus.

I was seventeen in January 1982 when I came to the Agape Centre. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, I had nowhere to live except the streets. I did not want to live that way, and my former school principal knew someone at the Agape Centre. The community accepted me without hesitation even though I did not meet the minimum age requirement (18 years), and had no money to support myself.

The hospitality, love and mercy I received from each member of the community during my stay at the Agape Centre brought about my own conversion. I admired how each person was convinced Jesus loved them, and was committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus. They showed a strong faith and hope in salvation as they abandoned themselves to his providential care. I was also touched by how important Church teachings were in their personal lives, especially the Church's teaching regarding the openness to life. As one person happily remarked, "There is always room for one more!"

The time came to close the doors of the Agape Centre. For the next 10 years Jesus blessed our community with a time for deepening our faith in God and strengthening family life.

From February 1992 to December 1995, we went out from St. Joseph's parish into the surrounding impoverished neighbourhood, sharing the Gospel to fallen away Catholics, and inviting them to the Church. As we listened to people express their hurts, we could invite them to be reconciled to God and each other.

Being able to go out on home visits was a great blessing to us. The stories of how Jesus moved during these visits inspired the whole community. We saw that when we step out to share our faith in love we can expect Jesus to be present and touch those we meet and pray for.

In 1993, we began publishing Olive Leaf Journal, which is being circulated throughout the Winnipeg Archdiocese. Olive Leaf is "dedicated to building up the Church by faithfully proclaiming her teaching."[2] This is an ongoing challenge, especially considering Olive Leaf is given away free of charge and the publishers have embraced a life of poverty. Olive Leaf relies to a large extent on the generosity of its members who give freely what they are able. If members cannot give financially they give through their prayers or by volunteering their services. Various benefactors also share in Olive Leaf's mission through their financial support. Recently the community established an Olive Leaf homepage on the Internet (thank you for visiting us here!). Our conviction that Jesus has called us to evangelize the world[3] is becoming more a reality. We are all excited about the endless possibilities of the Internet for spreading the Gospel worldwide!

We also are very grateful for the opportunity to share in the mission of St. Joseph's parish. Our service includes the weekly Friday night prayer meeting, lectors, ushers and music for Sunday Mass, working in the parish council and committees and teaching a unique marriage preparation course based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Other ministries include chemical dependency counselling, informal services to the poor, speakers for various functions, and parish missions.

Our faith in Jesus Christ opens wonderful doors to minister with his mercy and love. The year 2000 promises to be a "new springtime in Christianity." What a blessing we have as Catholics to be radically living out our faith and witnessing the wonderful outpouring of the Holy Spirit on his people, uniting them to the Father through Jesus Christ!

[1] A People of Peace Community, Inc., Mark Fetherston

[2] Olive Leaf Mission Statement

[3] Rule for Life (January 1995), A People of Peace Community, Inc.