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By Norma Montenegro Flynn
Over 150 children, teenagers and young adults in at-risk communities struck by the dangers of drug trafficking and violence in remote villages in the Diocese of Tumaco, Colombia, have found a safe haven in a youth and young adult ministry program. The diocese's pastoral focus on the youth has helped make a significant impact in the formation of new leaders and has encouraged the young people to become "Parochial Pastoral Agents for Peace."
Led by a strong-willed nun and her assistants, the ministry helps young women and men develop their musical talents and their faith through retreats and other activities. The ministry, which supports a large number of Afro-Colombian youth and young adults, also aims to build better bridges between children and parents, since many experience violence, neglect, or troubled relationships in their homes. The program has also developed a series of activities to raise awareness on the importance of practicing and living their Catholic faith in spite of the aforementioned social pressures of crime and violence.
This is one of the numerous ministries funded by the Collection for the Church in Latin America, which supports a wide range of pastoral activities and programs, such as evangelization, pregnancy centers, help for domestic violence and human trafficking victims, leadership development of community leaders based on Catholic social teaching, and vocations.
Almost every country in the Americas and the Caribbean has received assistance throughout the half-century of the collection. Rural ministries as well as outreach to indigenous communities have been particularly important in countries such as Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay and Brazil. In Guatemala, for example, Mayan communities just recently have been able to read the Catechism in their native language and are able to break down language barriers to a better understanding of their Catholic Faith. The CLA Collection provided funding for the project that translated the Catechism. In Brazil, support for faith formation in some of the indigenous communities in the Amazon has been important.
All these ministries know the importance of investing in youth and young adults and cultivating hope, faith, and Catholic values. They help participants to find a better present and hope for a better future in communities where lack of opportunities, lack of talent development and widespread poverty, violence, drugs and alcoholism are everyday realities. Improving the lives of so many individuals are part of the Works of Mercy that the many Catholics who contribute to this collection have made possible throughout the years.
Several weeks ago, Pope Francis commended the USCCB's Collection for the Church in Latin America and the donors who make this ministry possible. "I have seen first-hand the good that the continuing generosity of the faithful in the United States has accomplished throughout the world and particularly in Latin America," said Pope Francis in a letter sent on the 50th anniversary of the collection. "Through your support, many lives have been touched by the Good News of Christ's merciful love, especially for the poor."
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis would seldom recommend projects of his archdiocese for funding. When he did, his most recommended and supported projects were those having to do with outreach to the poor people of "the Villas" – the slums, the peripheries. A particular project for which he gave his strong support was one to strengthen Catholic radio's programming for the poorer areas of Buenos Aires.
The CLA Collection will be taken in most parishes the weekend of January 23-24.
Many countries are assisted every year. In 2015 alone, the collection awarded more than $6.8 million, providing over 425 grants to numerous ministries in 25 countries. More information and resources on the Collection for the Church in Latin America can be found at: www.usccb.org/latinamerica.
Norma Montenegro Flynn is assistant director of Media Relations in the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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