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The Conversation: Through God's Open DoorThe Conversation: Through God's Open Door

The Conversation: Through God's Open Door

From May to August 2014, Catholic Christian Outreach sent 11 university students and three staff members on a mission of renewal to Quebec City. Working with the archdiocese, their mission was to welcome visitors on pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Québec, the oldest cathedral in Canada. The students gave tours of the cathedral and welcomed visitors through the new holy door, which was installed in celebration of the church's 350th anniversary.

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The Conversation: Through God's Open Door August 1, 2015
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Convivium: What was the purpose of the mission project?

Julia Marsh: We all worked as tour guides and greeters at the cathedral. We were there to welcome the pilgrims and tourists who came to cross the Holy Door.

The Holy Door was built specifically for the 350th anniversary of Notre-Dame de Québec, which was the first parish of North America. The archdiocese asked the Vatican for a Holy Door to celebrate the anniversary and Pope Benedict XVI granted the request. It's the seventh Holy Door in the world and the first outside of Europe. The people of Quebec were really proud of that fact.

Marc-André Veselovsky: Our mission project was organized so that the opening of the Holy Door could be used as an opportunity for evangelization. The cathedral parish knew they would have a lot more visitors that year, and they didn't want the Holy Door to be only a tourist attraction. They wanted people to arrive as tourists and leave as pilgrims. Our role was to share our faith with people who were visiting a holy place but who might not be expecting to receive anything spiritual.

C: What activities did you undertake during the mission project?

JM: Our weeks revolved around our work schedule. We prayed together in the morning, went to work, then came home for supper. We stayed in a former rectory, which had a chapel in it. One of the things I miss the most from that summer was being able to pray before the Blessed Sacrament every morning.

MAV: We worked at the cathedral five days a week. Everyone had Monday off, so that was the day we'd have our mission training, coordinated by the three CCO [Catholic Christian Outreach] staff members leading our mission team. We each had another day off, but on shifts.

JM: Sometimes we would host an event in the evening, either at our house or at a neighbouring church. We called our events Radix; they involved music, a speaker, one of us giving a testimony of our faith, and fellowship. One was held at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, which is in a touristy part of the city. Another was at St-Roch, which is in a pretty poor neighbourhood.

Trevor Anzai: We had a neat experience the night of our event at St-Roch. Each day, a few members of our team would make dinner for the rest of the group. That night they brought the food to St-Roch, where we all met up after work. As we ate, we noticed some homeless people sitting on the steps of the church. We thought they might like some food, so we offered it to them.

JM: Others noticed and asked if we were giving out food. We said, "I guess we are!" A bunch of people were hanging out in the square in front of the church and they all came over for a meal. We had so many leftovers that night! God provided.

C: What were the most memorable experiences you had on mission?

TA: Halfway through the summer, one of our staff leaders invited us to share The Ultimate Relationship (UR) booklet 10 times a day. The UR is a short booklet published by CCO as an attractive tool for evangelization. It describes the Catholic faith simply and invites people to conversion of heart. I thought that was a wacky challenge because I was working in the museum and I might see only five or six people a day. But I thought, "I'm going to do this! I might not get 10 chances, but I'm going to share the UR with everyone I meet!" The museum is located on the upper balcony of the Cathedral. It has a beautiful collection of chalices, vestments, paintings and sculptures. I was there to greet people and give tours of the collection. Although not as many people came up to the museum as walked through the Holy Door, being there gave me the opportunity to spend more time with people. I actually spent up to two hours with some visitors!

On the first day of the UR challenge, I had a particularly memorable encounter. I told myself that I would try to share the UR with the first person who came to the museum that day. I prayed for courage and docility, asking for the saints' intercession.

The first person I met was a young woman from South Korea. She told me she had never heard of Jesus. After giving her a tour of the museum, I saw an opportunity. I was well-prepared, but I also relied on the Holy Spirit to speak to this woman simply about the Catholic faith. At the end of the UR booklet, there's a prayer to invite Christ into our lives. I asked her if she wanted to pray it. She paused for about 30 seconds — a long time when you're waiting for someone to respond! Eventually she said, "Yes, I want to invite Christ into my life." It was very moving to pray with her. I told her more about the Catholic faith and encouraged her to get involved with a parish back home in South Korea. I don't know what happened after she left, but I trust that God will look after her. It's in his hands. When you're evangelizing, you really have to trust God to do his work.

MAV : This mission was hard for me at first, especially compared with my previous mission experiences, which had been a lot more measurable. I found it hard to know whether our presence made a difference. I was preoccupied with this during the first part of the summer, to the point where I had a recurring dream about it. Someone would ask what happened on the mission and I couldn't remember. I'd wake up stressed — I didn't want that to happen. Eventually, I realized that the anxiety I felt revealed an untruth I believed in my heart: that God loves me based on my performance. I also realized that I had the same disposition toward my dad. Certain experiences growing up had led me to believe that my dad's love was conditional. I remember telling someone at the Holy Door, "You can walk through this door for different prayer intentions: for yourself or a loved one or to fix a broken relationship." Then I thought, "Wait a second, I should go through this door for my relationship with my dad!" So I did.

Shortly after, I wrote my dad a letter to share how I felt about our relationship. I told him, "I know you love me, but sometimes I feel that your love is based on how well I perform. I know that's not true, but I'd appreciate it so much if you could reassure me." My family came to visit Quebec City for a weekend, and I had a chance to spend some time alone with my dad. He told me he had read the letter and assured me that he loves me no matter what. That was pivotal for our relationship and for my relationship with God. It also changed the way I thought about the mission. It helped me stop focusing so much on myself, and what I was doing, and turn my attention to others. I could finally rest in the certainty of being loved unconditionally by God. The highlight of the mission for me was that experience of healing, which is something I really wasn't expecting.

I later shared that experience as a personal testimony of how one can receive grace and healing from God by prayerfully walking through the Holy Door. One man started crying when I shared with him. I hope that sharing my experience encourages others to reflect on what's important in life. That's what a pilgrimage is all about: you put aside work, you put aside material things, and you make this journey to encounter God.

JM: I had the opportunity to lead a small groupfaith study with two co-workers. There were 11 of us on the CCO mission, but there were also 16 other young adults from Quebec working as tour guides at the cathedral. We quickly realized that of the 16, only four were practising Catholics. One of the girls in my study group had practised her faith for a few years but had fallen away because of some negative relationships. After getting a job at the Cathedral, she decided to give the faith another chance. The other girl had been baptized but had never gone to church. She was eager to learn about the faith and it was beautiful to see God filling her with love over the course of the summer. I'm still in touch with her, so I've been able to see the fruit of our study, which is really fulfilling. Both girls recommitted to their faith and grew a lot. It was a huge blessing for me to be able to build relationships with these two coworkers and to see how God was working in them.

C: How did you experience personal growth over the course of the mission?

JM: I grew a lot in patience and openness. Marc- André and I had a conversation one night with a man who had many issues with the Catholic Church. We realized that the best thing for us do to was listen. We met a lot of people with strong opinions about the Church. We learned to listen patiently and not argue with them, asking the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation.

I also grew in trust. There were days when my feet were so sore from standing all day and I would say to God, "I don't have strength for this day. I am relying one hundred per cent on your strength." Looking back from the beginning of that summer to now, I can see how my trust in God has grown.

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TA: My prayer life deepened on mission. Before then, I would pray for maybe 20 minutes a day, here and there. Over the summer, because of our regular prayer time, I was really able to listen to God. Our 7 a.m. prayer time became a holy routine. I got to spend 45 minutes in the chapel every morning and I loved it. I actually went to bed early because I wanted to be alert and ready the next morning. My heart was on fire in prayer!

I grew in flexibility, too. I never knew what the day would bring, whom I would encounter, or who might need my help — I had to be open to spontaneity. Part of being flexible is being docile to the Holy Spirit. You have to say, "Lord, here I am today. Let me do your will."

MAV : The most important way I grew was in my relationship with my dad. My dad's 50th birthday was last September and I wrote him a card saying that I'm honoured to be his son. I don't think I could have said that before that summer. That was a big transformation.

My mission experience taught me a lot about healing and self-awareness. I realized that there was a reason for my feelings — they weren't random. I discovered that to be healed, I had to address the belief behind the feelings. Knowing that also helps me understand other people and be more compassionate toward them.

TA: I also grew a lot through our men's group. All the men on mission — students and staff — met once a week to discuss a book on men's spirituality. It asks, "What is a man's heart? What does it long for? What are the obstacles to finding fulfilment?" My experience last summer helped me answer those questions and strengthened my identity as a man of God. Sharing my joys and struggles with other men was instrumental in this process. Someone shared a Bible verse that stuck with me all through mission: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Proverbs 27:17). I really felt that the growth I experienced through my mission could not have happened without our team.

Beyond the men's study, I also learned some practical skills from my team members. Seeing how other people did their chores, like washing dishes or doing laundry, inspired me to be more conscientious. When I got home, I realized that I do chores differently now. I don't just throw my wet laundry on the rack — I place it neatly so it dries without getting wrinkly. I do the dishes almost every night as a way to show love for my family. I even take the next step and dry the dishes! Through their simple acts of virtue, my fellow missionaries inspired me to be a better person.

C: How has your life changed and your journey continued after the mission?

JM: For the past two school years, I have served on the student executive for CCO. This past year I was the student president. The training we got over the summer definitely prepared me for that leadership role. I also led two faith studies on campus the year after the mission. The study I led in Quebec reminded me of how God works through those studies and through me as a leader, if I let him. In terms of how my life has changed, through our daily prayer over the summer, I began to discern a vocation to religious life. It was the perfect environment for me to discover that call.

MAV : After mission, I also felt God call me to discernment. I made the decision to enter the seminary and began looking into different religious orders. I've now made an application to the Jesuits and I'm awaiting their reply.

TA: One of the biggest changes for me is in my love for God. I love praying and I love growing in my relationship with Christ. I found a chapel to visit on my way to school last year, and I committed myself to daily time with Jesus. That discipline of prayer has allowed me to continually be changed after mission. I knew I didn't want mission to be an isolated experience. I wanted it to change me, and it has.

As far as future plans, I feel that God is calling me to go out into the financial services world and bring Christ to those who are materially rich but who might be spiritually poor. I graduated from university this year and I feel called in that direction. I'm also in a relationship now and considering marriage. Part of CCO's mission is to build leaders for the renewal of the world — I want to participate in that vision. God knows how great you are. We can always have doubts, but if you go all in, God goes all in with you.

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