Hispanic young adults live their faith by example, invite peers to join them

By Rachel Koepke | The Compass | July 27, 2016

Peer evangelization is aim of ‘Jornadas’ youth group

GREEN BAY — With so much technology and all the distractions in the modern world, faith seems to have taken its place on the backburner. This is something local Hispanic youth are trying to change by means of peer evangelization.

“Youth evangelizing youth” is the focus of Jornadas de Vida Cristiana (Journeys of a Christian Life), a young adult group found within the Hispanic community at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Green Bay.

Capuchin Fr. Glenn Gessner of St. Fidelis Friary in Appleton performs a song and dance for attendees during a Jornadas retreat at St. Therese School building in Appleton July 16. Fr. Gessner was on hand to administer the sacrament of reconciliation. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)
Capuchin Fr. Glenn Gessner of St. Fidelis Friary in Appleton performs a song and dance for attendees during a Jornadas retreat at St. Therese School building in Appleton July 16. Fr. Gessner was on hand to administer the sacrament of reconciliation. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

A jornada, translated “journey,” is lived by young adults, ages 18-30, in a weekend-long retreat. The retreat is put on by youth who have previously lived their Jornada.

“Our purpose is to take the word of God to other youth who don’t know about Jesus, to spread the news, to get them more involved in their faith,” said Hector Nieto, an organizer for Jornadas.

This three-day retreat is put on twice a year. The most recent Jornada was held at St. Therese School in Appleton July 15-17. The Jornada itself is broken into four major stages, where participants experience a step-by-step walk through faith, spirituality, self-discovery and evangelization.

Rather than having adults organize and put on the retreat, Jornadas are run entirely by youth who have lived the retreat in the past, also called “Jornadistas.”

Speaking about his personal experience of Jornadas, Nieto emphasized the difference between being told something by an adult versus a peer. He said he “expected adults to speak, which is a little harder for (the youth) to listen. Having the youth inform us about these topics and about God, it’s really helpful.”

The “Jornadistas” running the retreat share their testimonies and personal experiences of faith, which resonate and relate to many of the youth living that retreat. The retreat experience does not end on Sunday.

After the Jornadas weekend, participants are invited to choose a member who has already lived a Jornada to be their mentor, or as Nieto called it, “a Jornadas Godfather.” They choose “whoever impacted them the most when serving the Jornada,” Nieto explained. “For example, if I give a topic and they loved it, or my testimony impacted their life, they could choose me and I’m responsible for them now.”

Jornadas retreat participants take part in a faith walk during activities July 16 at the St. Therese School building in Appleton. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)
Jornadas retreat participants take part in a faith walk during activities July 16 at the St. Therese School building in Appleton. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

As the “godparents” of the new members, the mentors are responsible for answering questions their “godchild” may have, checking in on them and being an example of how to live “una vida Cristiana” (a Christian life).

“You see the new members going to the retreat, they come shy, don’t know what’s going on, they’re really quiet,” Nieto said. For him, the most inspiring part of the retreat is “the transformation from Friday to Sunday. This group actually helps.” He said participants “find who they really are and they fall in love with God.”

While Jornadas retreats are currently offered in Spanish, Nieto and the other Jornadistas are hoping to expand into a bilingual and possibly completely English retreat. They are trying to expand their reach and get the word out to more young adults.

“We don’t want just to stay in Spanish, we want to spread to English as well,” Nieto stated. He said he wants “everybody to try to get an experience of what Jornadas is.”

On past retreats, there have been young adults from Green Bay, Oshkosh, Chicago and even the Diocese of Grand Rapids (Michigan).

“People from Michigan are coming (to Jornadas) because they want to get Jornadas started over there, too,” Nieto said.

Strengthening the faith is only one result of the Jornadas weekend. Participants have found their vocation, met their spouse or changed their college major after living the Jornada. “At first, I wanted to go for something like business,” Nieto said, while reflecting on his own major: nursing. He said his major changed after his Jornada.

“I want to serve. I want to be out there, I want to be able to serve the community with my career, and I can probably say that for many of the other members who are in school that Jornadas changed the way to see their career. I was one of them,” he said.

Nieto plans to continue helping and organizing Jornadas retreats. “Being part of that, it just makes you happy and it makes you want to keep going.” he said. “That’s what I love about (Jornadas).”

According to Nieto, Jornadas has been in Green Bay since 2009. Outside of Green Bay, the Jornadas movement can be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and various areas in the United States, including California, Florida and New York.

For more information about Jornadas, see the Jornadas Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mjvcmonte tabor. Parishes interested in learning more can contact Hector Nieto by email, [email protected], or by phone at (920) 284-6597.

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