PASSAIC Mission work may be difficult but being able to connect young people to embrace Jesus and his Church makes it all worthwhile, according to a group of young adults who are a part of the National Evangelization Team (NET).
For more than two decades, NET has been hosting retreats in the Paterson Diocese reaching thousands of youths. Once again, during the Lenten season, NET has touched the lives of many middle school and high school students by holding retreats in parishes as these young people prepare for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
NET Team 2 arrived in the Diocese of Paterson March 9 driving seven hours from the Diocese of Richmond, Va. Once here, they led retreats in 11 parishes of the Diocese and also at Morris Catholic High School in Denville. Team 2 is one of 14 teams leading retreats for teenagers. Nine teams are traveling throughout the country. They began their journey in September and it will end in June. During the nine months of traveling cross country, the NET teams will travel 20,000 miles, visit eight dioceses, facilitate nearly 150 retreats, stay in 125 hosts homes and reach more than 8,500 young people one-on-one with the Gospel message.
Joe Traver, 20, of Florida, has been serving with NET for three years and called the Paterson Diocese an “interesting diocese” that differs in many ways from the other dioceses the team has visited. “The teens have a quiet receptiveness about them. You can see there is a big hunger for the truth and you realize there is a need for our work with them.”
His fellow teammate, Bethany Szamocki of Illinois, added, “They ask a lot of questions about the faith. At times, many of them may seemed closed off but when they open up to Jesus the reward is great.”
In addition to Florida and Illinois, members of the team hail from California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Also from Illinois, was Josh Billing, 22, who seemed destined to join NET. He remembers hearing about it when he was 11-years-old after learning that his mother wanted to join. He remembers his family hosting NET teams in their home and seeing how these young adults took their faith so seriously. “I wanted to do the same,” he told The Beacon. “It’s rewarding especially when at first you meet young people who don’t want to be there and then suddenly at the end of the retreat, they come up personally to thank you for changing his or her life.”
Father Philip-Michael Tangorra, assistant coordinator of evangelization at St. Paul’s Inside the Walls in Madison, coordinated the visits between parishes and the NET team and led a retreat for the team itself. “NET is by far one of the best youth evangelization programs in the nation,” he said. “I say this for a two-fold reason. One, the peer-on-peer power of the message that NET teams give for the benefit of our youth is amazing. Two, the Christian formation and spiritual exercises that the NET team undergoes itself is carefully designed to bring about maturity in each team member’s own personal development. I have heard back nothing but the highest of praise from pastors and youth ministers. The team we have hosted this year has received many accolades and numerous parishes have commented to me that this is the best NET team they ever had. It is always a pleasure getting to know the NET teams that come through the Diocese. I, myself, have hosted five different teams. Each team brings their own gifts and talents and I can personally endorse NET knowing not only the programs they offer but also the faith of these wonderful young evangelists and missionaries — they bring me hope for the future of the Church.”
On March 30, they made their final stop in the Diocese by leading a retreat at St. Mary Assumption Church here for ninth- to 12th-graders. Some of the retreat themes presented throughout the Diocese were: “With Great Power,” “Strength in Numbers,” “Fully Alive” and “In His Image.”
Janely Jose, Confirmation coordinator for St. Nicholas and St. Mary parishes in Passaic, said, “The teens always enjoy welcoming NET. They enjoy the bonding among the small groups and they look forward to the experience in the Church where they pray together and go to confession. The retreat enhances their Confirmation preparation experience and its great for us to have a day like this.”