(In photo above, Vicente Rosas meets with parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Sacramento: Elda Lara and her children, Adilene, Bruno and Marcos.)
Vicente Rosas, Linda Springer and Vince Bottoni, all participants in the Diocese of Sacramento’s Lay Mission Project, a three-year advanced lay formation process, look forward to completing their certification as lay ministry leaders in July. They are among 78 Lay Mission Project graduates who are eager to use their newfound knowledge and skills to minister in their parishes, as well as to influence others and witness to Christ in their professions.
They all agree the Lay Mission Project has helped them understand the vocation of the laity in a deeper way.
Vicente, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Sacramento for the past six years, describes his parish community as vibrant, with Masses in Spanish full of families, many with young children. He says being a part of the Lay Mission Project has helped him to be more prepared to minister to young people and keep them in the church as they grow into young adults, as well as to carry out catechesis with families.
“We see the varying needs for all these Catholics,” says Vicente, who has worked for many years in construction and is now a supervisor for a Sacramento-area construction company. “Some understand the basics of our faith, but others do not. The more we interacted with parents, the more we discovered they don’t have a good understanding of the basics and their children were not being catechized at home. So we know the key to our program is catechesis to the whole family at different levels.”
Together with his wife, Gaby, Vicente leads “formation Saturdays,” where parents come with their children to receive instruction in Spanish for 90 minutes while their children are in faith formation classes for two hours. About 600 children and teens are in the faith formation program, with some 70 catechists involved in teaching about the faith.
From September through May he presents on 17 Saturdays, during one morning and one afternoon session, with some 250 parents attending each session.
“It’s a great opportunity to reach out to parishioners of all ages who are in need of formation,” Vicente says. “I help some of the adults to do their own discernment. They tell me they are enlightened by this and have never experienced this before in their religious education. My focus is on making parents realize how important the family as the domestic church is and how they can transmit the faith to their children.
“We have the responsibility to make sure than every person knows the resurrected Christ,” he adds. “We need to be intentional disciples. I am exercising my calling of evangelizing to others. Then you get feedback from people, how they were touched when you were talking, or a sign of something happening in their lives later on. It’s the Holy Spirit working through that person. Our charisms were given to us at baptism for the sake of other people. All we do is for the glory of God.”
Vicente was raised in a Catholic family and attended Catholic schools in Aguascalientes, the capital of the state of Aguascalientes in Mexico. He and Gaby, who have been married 24 years, have five children, ages 22 to seven, and lead the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in Spanish for teens and young adults, as well as parent formation classes. Prior to ministry at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, they were involved at St. Joseph Parish in Elk Grove for 11 years.
The Lay Mission Project has been “life changing,” he says, citing great support from his fellow participants in his small St. Dominic Savio community, which meets every Sunday evening. “When I started, I was looking to live my call as a disciple and wondering what it means to be a lay apostle,” he says. “I’ve changed in a really good way as a result of this formation.”
He interacts differently with others on the job. “I’m in a stressful profession, and what I’ve learned helps me view each day through a different lens. I have to see the gestures of Jesus in all I do, perhaps being more patient, listening and understanding people. The prayer practices I have learned help me be one with Jesus, help me see the day and what his intentions are for me and for every person I meet.”
Lectio Divina (“divine reading”) each day provides him with “a stronger inner life, that helps me keep a cool head and to make it through calmly in whatever situation faces me,” Vicente says. “My coworkers even notice a change in me, that I show calm and peace in the middle of all the chaos. I try to enlist people and give them advice. I try to be the gesture of Jesus in a quiet way.”
‘You share your faith and your story’
Linda of St. John the Baptist Parish in Folsom says she’s learned a great deal about “witnessing” her faith to others from her involvement in the Lay Mission Project. “As laity, by virtue of our baptism, we are called to be evangelists, so we need to share our faith with others,” she says. “But I never wanted to be in somebody’s face doing that.”
Dominican Father Michael Sweeney (executive director of the Lay Mission Project) said something that stuck with her. “You have to see others through Christ’s eyes and you have to witness a person before you can witness to them,” Linda says. “You have to have a relationship with a person before you can share what they might be ready to hear about God’s message. I realized that’s how you evangelize – you just have to live your life. It’s about your relationship with God and being open to his will. The knowledge in your head is not all of it – you share your faith and your story.”
Linda, who had a 30-year career in libraries in Missouri, Georgia and California, retired from her work at the California State Library six years ago. She grew up in the United Methodist Church in southern California and Missouri, but after college at Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo., where her best friends were Catholic, she was received into the Catholic Church in the early 1980s after several sessions with a local priest.
After many years away from the church -- what she calls “my time in the desert when I wandered away from the faith -- in 2010 Linda asked a good friend who rode light rail with her downtown to work if she could attend Mass with her at St. John the Baptist. Linda connected with Cynthia Mulcaire, then director of the RCIA at the parish, and soon she was sitting in on RCIA classes to enhance her knowledge of Catholic teaching. After sitting in for two years, Linda was asked to join the RCIA team.
At nearby Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF), a group of female offenders currently attend Sunday Mass. Linda’s “capstone” project to conclude her studies in the Lay Mission Project is conducting catechetical classes in collaboration with Father Humberto Gomez, FWF chaplain, for women serving sentences at FWF. She wants to assist women who wish to become Catholic, learn more about their Catholic faith, or receive their sacraments (if they have not received all of them).
She was a volunteer in prison ministry many years ago when she lived in Overland Park, Kansas. Recently she assisted Father Humberto with two cohorts of the Bridges to Life program, a 14-week restorative justice program designed to give participants the tools to change themselves so they will not return to prison.
“Our challenge with the catechetical classes will be developing a program for these women who don’t always know when they will be transitioned out,” Linda says. In Bridges for Life, for instance, several women were paroled halfway through the 14 weeks and some were paroled two weeks before the class ended.
Prison ministry is humbling, she notes. “I realized there’s not that much difference between myself and these inmates. Many women have problems with drugs or alcohol, have been sexually abused by a husband or family member, or didn’t have the advantages some of the rest of us did. A lot of people are reluctant to be a volunteer in a prison. I think they would find it different from what they imagine it to be. You see can Christ in the inmates, just as you do in your friends sitting across the table from you.”
Find that ‘God door’
While he had a “typical Catholic upbringing” in Roseville, taking faith formation classes and receiving the sacraments of initiation at St. Rose Parish, Vince says after being confirmed as a teen he wasn’t a regular Mass-goer and for several years felt “nominally Catholic.”
He attended California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and earned his degree in electrical engineering. After a few years working in the East Bay for PG&E, he landed a job as a power engineer with the City of Roseville, feeling fortunate to rejoin family and friends in his hometown.
Vince can’t pinpoint a particular moment in time when he decided to rediscover his faith more fully. In 2012, he began attending Mass regularly at St. Clare Parish in Roseville. By 2015 he recommitted to practicing his faith and became involved as a team member on the committee that coordinates the RCIA. “I felt what I call the human side of my life was missing,” he says. “I became more curious about my faith and wanted to reform myself and learn the things I never really learned growing up.”
Not long after, he heard the Lay Mission Project was beginning in August 2016 and looking for laypeople interested in more deeply understanding and fully living their vocation in the world. So when Rita Schillin, RCIA coordinator at St. Clare, encouraged him to apply, he jumped at the opportunity.
He sees the formation process “as another phase in my formative, lifelong journey of faith. Before this, I felt I had very little formation. I think many lay Catholics feel the same way unless they are intentional about it. Many of us don’t know much about our faith and how to live it as a layperson. Because of our baptism, we enter into the priesthood of all believers. We are called to serve the entire people of God.”
Vince has been inspired by studying Dominican spirituality and its four pillars of prayer, study, community and ministry. “Coincidentally, my confirmation name is Dominic and he’s the patron saint of the town where my mom grew up in in Italy,” he notes. “I have resonated with the Dominicans, their discipline and how they go about teaching the faith.”
Discussions on a variety of faith and church topics with the other members of his small formation community have been collaborative and “sometimes pretty intense,” he says. “We all have different understandings of issues and we feel free to speak our minds and share our experiences.”
He feels a certain freedom now about sharing his faith with others, whether in the workplace or in social settings. He hopes to be a positive influence on other young adults about taking their Catholic faith seriously and living it every day.
He likes when people ask questions, as that can be an opening to speak about his beliefs. “People in our culture today don’t want to be preached at or judged – nobody does,” he says. “We have only one judge -- that is our Lord. But as baptized and confirmed laypeople, we do have an obligation to our Lord to share our faith, especially when people ask you. I have a hard time ‘cold calling’ people. It’s more about waiting for that door to open to share with a person one on one.
“I make no bones about being a Catholic Christian at work. I love the tangible, outward expressions of our faith, such as on Ash Wednesday and during Lent, when people ask what we do and why we do it. Not because we are ‘holier than thou,’ but because this is what we believe and know this to be true. We share with others that our disciplines make sense and help us grow closer to God.”
He believes many young adults and other fallen-away Catholics raised in the faith “still believe in their faith and just need a kind word, a nudge, or an invitation to come back to Mass and the sacraments. Then they’ll see how good it is for them to be close to our Lord...You work in tiny ways and find that ‘God door,’ and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. We don’t convert anyone – the Holy Spirit does. But we can be there to be the people who can shed some light on their questions.”
About the Lay Mission Project at www.scd.org/laymission.