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Being God's Messengers
By Margaret Gaughan

When 12-year-old Chris Anderson chose St. Francis Xavier as his patron saint at confirmation, he never imagined the great missionary saint would help him fan the flame of mission in his own school. It was Chris' initiative that led to Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert's recent visit to Divine Providence Catholic School (now Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School) in King of Prussia, Pa., where the priest not only explained the work of today's missioners but also helped students recognize their own missionary vocation.


Fr. Robert Jalbert speaking about mission to a classChris' interest in mission was first sparked by an assignment from his sixth-grade teacher, Veronica Rose, preparing her students to receive the sacrament of confirmation last spring. "We talked about how as confirmed Christians they would live as God's messengers and the significance of the patron saint they would choose to help them," she says. She and fellow teacher Linda Love devised a project requiring students to write a research paper on their saint and prepare an interactive presentation for students in other grades to respond.

Chris says he was drawn to Xavier because he liked the name but discovered a role model in the person behind it. "I found out St. Francis Xavier went to many countries to make sure more people could come into the Catholic Church," says Chris. "He was a missionary." For the interactive piece of his project, he decided to have his schoolmates write to a present-day missionary.

"My mom remembered Maryknoll from when she was growing up," Chris says. When she called the mission society, she was told that Father Robert Jalbert, director of Maryknoll's Mission Education and Promotion Department, would be happy to hear from the youngsters.

Principal and teacher looking over the classroom program"Their letters touched my heart," says Father Jalbert. He decided to go to their school to tell them so.

"I came to personally thank you for your prayers and interest in mission," Father Jalbert told the sixth-graders, and gave a special nod to Chris for making the connection. Then interspersed with lively discussion, he shared his mission experiences in East Africa, including a video of his work in a large slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Noting the severe poverty of the Kenya mission, the Pennsylvania youth recognized that "people seemed happy without a lot." That, Father Jalbert told them, is one of the many lessons he learned from the poor. "They taught me to depend on God," he said.

Following the presentation, Chris said, "I learned that being a missionary is helping people see Jesus in your actions by helping them in whatever they need. It doesn't matter if you go to Africa or help here."

Father Jalbert visited the seventh- and eighth-graders and then spent time with Veronica Rose and principal Theresa Garvin. They were delighted to find out they could continue to foster mission awareness in their school through the Maryknoll Magazine Classroom Program. Throughout the school year, the program provides, free of charge, a Maryknoll magazine for each student plus a lesson plan and poster for the teacher centering on an article in the issue chosen for its appeal to youth. Lesson plans are available in two versions—grades K–5 and 6–12—with age-appropriate questions and activities to reinforce the lesson.

"I like that the program offers role models who are real," said Theresa Garvin. "It helps students understand the communion of saints as not only the people we pray to in heaven but also those around us living life in Jesus Christ." She is adding her pupils to the more than 200,000 students in U.S. Catholic schools and religious education programs who participate in the Maryknoll Magazine Classroom Program.

"I'm very excited about this," said Veronica Rose, adding that this program will be a welcome addition to the materials she uses in her confirmation catechesis.

Chris Anderson looks forward to reading Maryknoll magazine and getting inspired by missioners like Father Jalbert. "When I wrote to him, I thought maybe he would write back," says Chris. "But I never thought he'd come and visit us."

For more on the Maryknoll Magazine Classroom Program, visit www.maryknollsociety.org/classroom.

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