College converts highlight community, personal invitation as key factors to decision to become Catholic this Easter
DETROIT — Andreya Vo was walking through the student fair at the University of Michigan-Dearborn when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
A student handed her information about Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, thinking she might be interested.
“This girl gave me a card to campus ministry saying, ‘Fr. Matt (Hood, chaplain and director of campus ministry) saw your scapular, and told me to give this to you,’” Vo told Detroit Catholic.
Vo was wearing the scapular her grandmother gave her for protection, but Vo wasn’t a practicing Catholic.
“I was so amazed; it was less of me finding campus ministry, and more of campus ministry finding me,” Vo said. “I wore the scapular because it was a gift for me. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was for protection, and that is something I wanted.”
That personal invitation sparked an interest in Vo, a psychology major from Bloomfield Hills. She started going to Mass and attending Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry events on the grounds of Our Lady of Rosary Church on Woodward Avenue in Detroit's Midtown.
“I never showed an interest in my faith until this year when I started college, and Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry found me,” Vo said. “They really brought me into all these fellowship opportunities, introducing me to all the Catholics and inspiring me to be more developed in my faith.”
Vo — along with four other students affiliated with Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, which serves Wayne State University, the University of Michigan-Dearborn and other surrounding campuses — are entering into full communion with the Catholic Church this year, with Vo finally being able to receive her first Communion.
Anna Picasso, an outreach coordinator for Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, said it's the biggest group to be entering the Church from campus ministry in quite a while.
“This is by far the largest group we had; last year we had one student come in, but this year we have expanded to five, which is incredible,” Picasso said. “Already I’ve been contacted by students interested for next year, so it is beautiful to see the ways the Lord is bringing these phenomenal students to our doors.”
Campus ministry usually revolves around serving Catholic students on campus with regular offerings of Mass, Bible study, service opportunities, and time for fellowship among other Catholic students.
But lately, Picasso said, the ministry has noticed an increased interest from students not familiar with the Catholic faith or who have fallen away from the faith before receiving their sacraments.
She, along with Fr. Hood, chaplain and leader of Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry, have been hosting catechesis every Tuesday night, answering questions about the faith and discussing what it means to be Catholic.
“I think there are incredible ways the Lord is reaching out on campus,” Picasso said. “There is tremendous potential to meet young people from all these different universities. It’s always been our desire to not only reach out to those who might have grown up Catholic and have some sense of the faith, but also like those students who might have no encounter with Catholicism.”
The five students coming into the Church this Easter come from a mix of backgrounds, such as Hinduism and nondenominational Protestantism, to Catholics who haven’t completed their sacraments of initiation.
Charles Wesley will be confirmed this Easter after growing up Catholic and receiving his first Communion, but falling away from his faith in middle school.
The Macomb Township native started to rediscover his faith two years ago, making it a habit of going to church. His roommates invited him to Bible studies, and his father encouraged him to seek out the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults (OCIA) so he could get confirmed.
“I have roommates who are very devout Christians who played a big role in me coming back to the faith because I was seeing what I was missing out on,” said Wesley, a kinesiology major. “One night, I tried coming back to my faith and I got a Bible, and they asked if I wanted to do a Bible study with them. That was in effect the beginning of everything, just seeing them, and my father being a witness for me, it just shows the power of witness.”
Wesley sought out Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry and inquired about starting OCIA, which he describes as a “night and day” difference from his catechism classes as a youngster.
“I feel as a child I’d go to church and catechism class and learn stuff, but I wasn’t 100 percent there,” Wesley said. “I didn’t know why I needed to go to church, or why we were doing certain things during Mass. But as a college student, I have a way better understanding of the faith and all aspects. It’s been a blessing to go through OCIA and learn about the faith now and continue catechism, to have this understanding.”
Wesley added the community aspect of campus ministry — being able to journey with fellow college students who are trying to find faith in their own lives — played a big part in his desire to come into full communion with the Church this Easter.
“When you are in college, you are away from family at home, your parents, your brothers, your sisters,” Wesley said. “You don’t have that type of family, so you seek that out, and the Church is a family. That’s something I didn’t realize until recently, but something we talk about in OCIA, how the Church is your chosen family.”
Building a family-like community is part of what makes for successful Christian accompaniment and evangelization, Picasso said, especially in an environment like a college campus where there can be many challenges to being Catholic.
“Detroit Catholic Campus Ministry desires to serve students in every capacity we can,” Picasso said. “Whether that is forming the intellect through formation, college nights at the Gabriel Richard Center (on the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn) and the Our Lady of the Rosary Student Center, Bible studies led by our campus missionaries, adorations chapels available for them and Mass to bring them the sacraments, the heart of our faith. Even community events like our Sunday supper are opportunities to grow in authentic friendship and discipleship.”
Vo thanks God for the day she received that her on the shoulder, a personal invitation to a community in which she has found her identity as a daughter of Christ.
“This community has been an amazing family for me, filled with so much encouragement and so much love,” Vo said. “Even though I’ve only been here a few months, they made this place feel like a home where I’ve known everyone for years.”
Vo can’t wait for her first Communion this Easter. She and a few of her friends did Exodus 90, which includes attending daily Mass.
Being in the presence of the Lord at Mass increased her desire for the Blessed Sacrament, knowing that the sacraments bring her into communion with the people of God for a lifelong journey.
“Campus ministry really has shown me that being a follower of Jesus isn’t something that is performative or something to display,” Vo said. “Rather, it is a personal connection to receive that calling and know how sincere it is, it’s really beautiful to me.”
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