Friar Eric de la Pena, OFM Conv.

Presented by Our Lady of the Angels Province Friar, Fr. Ericson de la Peña, OFM Conv., who served in Campus Ministry at the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.

Pope Francis expressed his hope of our sharing Christian values with the young by presenting “Jesus Christ as the meaning of life…” (Vatican Audience, 2/13/14). In my ministry at Catholic University, I personally try to foster in vivo encounters with Christ by focusing on the meaning of life that is found through our Franciscan calling to minority, for we are told by St. Francis that Christ willing chose to be become poor. Teaching minority as a lifestyle has brought me, and those I serve, up close to the poor and the marginalized (whom St. Francis loved dearly with special devotion.)
Our campus ministry is always offering opportunities for us to meet the poor and to help them. This is good, but not enough. It was in a homily earlier this academic year that a friar asked the students how many volunteered for service projects, or in particular at a soup kitchen. Nearly everyone’s hand was raised in the air. Then the friar asked for another show of hands, for those who actually took the time to sit, share a meal, and have a conversation with the people at the tables. He was asking if the value of minority, of our truly being “lesser brothers and sisters” was operative. He was asking if our charity moves into minority, as a way of living and interacting with other that may seem a bit reckless at times.
A mission trip to Costa Rica two years ago brought together students from CUA, Duke, & UNC, stirring a real Franciscan passion for charity, justice, and peace within us. During the week friars and students went out to meet the homeless and the severely disabled persons who were left in institutions that would care for them. One of the tasks that our students bravely performed was to wash and clean the bodies of the sick amid the horrid conditions they found them in. The repulsive stench was certainly not for the weak heart, yet none of the students assigned there backed out, some even vied to get the spot! I was deeply moved by the compassion I witnessed from our young missionaries, and honestly caught by surprise at how these privileged youngsters were reckless in associating themselves so closely and tenderly with the poor.
The mutual edification during the mission trip did not end after our day of service but continued on through the evening with a daily reflection of our encounters. Touched by the human suffering they witnessed, these encounter engendered a greater desire in them to reach out and give of themselves more completely as lesser brothers and sisters.
Two students from CUA returned to Costa Rica after college, as FrancisCorp volunteers, and one of the two became Catholic during her time there. Another has just been accepted to return to Costa Rica as part of next the next FrancisCorp group, while yet another one has volunteered at an extended volunteer mission in NY.
Our Franciscan charism of fostering charity, justice and peace, when presented through the lifestyle of minority, resonates strongly with the youth. We simply cannot relegate this core values to the side, for if lived authentically we will find ourselves not working solo in our mission. Instead we find ourselves, like St. Francis, among the poor and the youth, discovering together Jesus Christ as the meaning of life.

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