Thursday, March 03, 2016 - Updated: 4:00 am
Austin Huck will never forget the date. Oct. 18, 2011. On that day two National Evangelization Team members told him that he could do something amazing with his life, “not something that would be reported or remembered in a history book, but in some young person’s life.” As a NET team member himself, he could one day impact young people and call them in holiness to be a saint.
“I said that’s what I want,” Huck said.
A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, Huck joined NET Ministries in September and was one of 11 members who served in the Diocese of Pittsburgh Feb. 10-17.
The ministry challenges young Catholics to love Christ and embrace the life of the church. Some 150 members ages 18-28 come together every August and spend nine months traveling throughout the United States and abroad sharing the Gospel. Since 1981, NET Ministries has sponsored more than 29,000 retreats that have ministered to more than 1.7 million young Catholics.
The recent swing through the diocese featured programs at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School; St. Margaret Mary, Moon Township; St. Maurice, Forest Hills; the Catholic Committee on Scouting retreat, held at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton; St. Mary of the Mount in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood; and St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Pleasant Hills.
“Christ knew not to live his life alone, and for us to be a witness for that,” Huck said. “Showing our community life of being on a team is a huge part of that.”
Among the NET Ministries goals are to proclaim the Gospel through a personal witness of faith; invite young people to live for Christ; form them in Christian character through the study and practice of their faith; and equip those who work with young people with the skills needed for evangelization.
At the Feb. 14 gathering for the Catholic Committee on Scouting, the team led the scouts through several engaging skits and personal reflection.
Adam Boyle of SS. John and Paul in Franklin Park/Marshall Township, a member of Boy Scout Troop 935, spoke of the powerful impact of hearing the team members describe their struggles to be witnesses to the faith.
“We have a lot to learn from that,” he said.
Boyle pointed to a particular skit that emphasized the importance of putting trust in God when making decisions, adding, “Even with the most simple decisions you have to put God first. You have to think about how it’s going to impact your faith.”
Christine Mellick of St. Louise de Marillac in Upper St. Clair spoke of the importance of experiencing a ministry of young adults just a few years older than herself. “They’re a really great witness because they’ve experienced a lot of the same things we have,” she said.
Gary Roney, director of the Department for Youth and Young Adult Ministry, pointed out that the youthfulness of the NET teams is very attractive because it presents an authentic peer evangelization.
“They’re actively living out their faith and they’re unashamed,” he said. “They do it boldly and they do it really well.”
Even the “youngest adults” can quickly lose touch with their faith in rapidly changing times, Roney said. The team members can relate to the youths because they live in the same realm. And they do it with the eyes of faith.
Owen Maher of Reno, Nevada, is a first-year NET team member. Their witness, he noted, is that you can be a vibrant young person and still be faithful. While a lot of people tout young people as the church of the future, he said, the reality is that they’re a real part of the church today.
“The witness that we’re bringing to them is really going to help them live out their faith and continue to thrive and grow in it,” he said.
At St. Elizabeth Feb. 17, the confirmation class attended a reconciliation service and heard a talk on “You Will Receive Power,” which describes the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how they can affect their lives. They also had time for prayer, large group games and other reflective activities.
“We want them to know that Jesus is alive and he’s going to love them no matter where they’re at,” said Katie Dell of Irving, Texas, who took a year off from college to serve on the team.
The goal of every retreat, she noted, is to create a relationship with the Lord. It promotes a new evangelization that inspires young people to go out and spread the Good News.
“Our main goal is to let them know that the Lord is there to love them,” she said. “If that’s all they get out of today that’s all they really need to know.”
Jesse Braddock, 15, spoke of how the retreat reinforced the idea that God is always with you and ready to help.
“It takes a lot of guts to go out there and put yourself out for everybody,” he said of the team. “They did it great. I loved it.”
Adele Sedlar, 14, said the retreat showed her that she wasn’t as open to God — and she didn’t know him as well — as she thought. She pointed to a skit in which a team member pulled a chair away from Jesus, adding, “I felt like that was what I was doing with him a lot of the time.”
She appreciated the peer ministry of the team and said it was much different from people in their 40s, like their parents, trying to teach them about the faith. People who are younger, she noted, are more relatable and much easier to understand.
“You have to know God and Jesus,” she said. “And you have to be with him instead of just knowing about him.”
Elizabeth Lagoe of Austin, Texas, was a theology student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She wanted to go into youth ministry right out of college, but she wanted to serve in a more radical way than at a parish. She began to realize that the Lord was calling her to be uncomfortable for him.
“I realized I had never really stepped out of my comfort zone to share him with other people,” she said.
The message that young people take with them, Lagoe said, is that Jesus loves them and wants a relationship with them. He gave everything for them, and all that he asks is that they let him into their hearts.
Huck said he challenges young men in his group to pray more and go to Mass on their own — to become a true young man. He does that, he said, because others encouraged him to grow in his faith.
“The best way is to have someone challenge you, to push you to be the best image that God intends you to be,” Huck said.
As the final session at St. Elizabeth drew to a close, Kylie Holzknecht reminded the young people that a retreat should have an impact of more than just one day.
“Our faith is not dead,” she said. “It is alive.”
Holzknecht pointed to the ministry’s four tenants of fellowship, prayer, sacraments and service in telling them that while their actions can build up others, they can also tear them down. She challenged them to actively live out their Catholic faith.
“To know, to love and to serve God,” she said. “That’s why we were created.”
NET teams make frequent visits to the Pittsburgh area. Another team will be in the diocese this month.
The ministry was founded in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1981. It was inspired by the Scriptures: “Come after me, I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17) and “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). It has since moved into Canada and Australia, and has served in Guam, Honduras, Mexico, Germany, Malaysia, New Zealand, Uganda and Ireland.
More information is available by visiting www.netusa.org, or by calling 651-450-6833.