National News

With St. Joseph’s ‘Fiat’, Lay Men Expand The Gospel’s Reach on Mission at Home and Overseas

Josh Wetmore, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in El Salvador, is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo)

By Kiki Hayden

(OSV News) — Relationship, contemplative prayer, caring for children, accompaniment — these words may not be readily associated with masculine stereotypes. But they are core parts of Catholic men today who have dedicated themselves to carrying out the mission Jesus Christ entrusted to his church on college campuses, at parishes, in schools and sports programs and working alongside farmers.

“So much of our work is relationally oriented,” Dorian Arellano, a 31-year-old missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), told OSV News.

On a retreat called “The Father’s House” in his home state of Texas, Arellano posed a question to his small group: “Do I believe that it can be said of me that I’m a good man?” The question gave them “a launch point for them to begin to wrestle with that deeper identity.”

Arellano, a regional director for the Denver-based missionary outreach to college-aged students, added that in many cultures women are seen as more likely to engage with their faith.

“Most of us have (the) experience of our moms embracing Christianity more than our fathers,” he said.

But that mother’s influence can influence a young man’s decision to commit his life to Jesus Christ.

FOCUS missionary Dorian Arellano is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo)

Jimmy Chang felt inspired by his mother’s strong spirituality. When Chang contracted an illness in the hospital where he was born, the doctors told his mother he wasn’t going to make it. “She cried and told the Lord that she offered me to him,” Chang told OSV News.

As a young adult, Chang echoed his mother’s prayers, saying, “I give you my life; use me as you will.”

Chang was influenced by another woman, too: his wife, who was a FOCUS missionary when they first met via shortly after Chang moved from Ecuador to Florida. A few years after they married, Chang said the Lord made it possible for them to form a family having “one single mission.”

“Then, I left my job and we became full-time missionaries,” he said. Now 38, Chang serves alongside his wife as a FOCUS missionary at Our Catholic Family of parishes in Nebraska.

“Men like to ‘do’ things; they like to be more active or to do jobs,” he said. Chang encourages men to engage also in contemplative prayer, adoration, and Scripture reflection. According to Chang, men who engage in “a life of contemplative silence” are “the ones who yield more fruit.”

FOCUS missionaries Jimmy and Melissa Chang are pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo)

Juan Gomez, age 35, challenges stereotypes too, by making tortillas and changing diapers. Originally from Colombia, Gomez came of age in New Jersey. During time spent with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in El Salvador, Gomez learned how to make corn tortillas.

“They made fun of me because only women would make them over there. But it was a way to say, ‘No, we can all do it. We can all collaborate,'” he said.

Now serving in Bolivia, Gomez is the father of young twins. “(People) are surprised if they see me carrying them or changing a diaper or feeding them,” he told OSV News. Gomez hopes these actions show others that men caring for their children “is normal and beautiful.”

Maryknoll Lay Missioners “believe that it is not us that bring the solutions,” explained Gomez, “but we are just arriving to that community to discover God already there.”

Rob Roa, 31, knows this can be hard for anyone serving on mission — especially men. “Men are conditioned, to a certain degree, to conquer the world,” he told OSV News, “but what the world needs more of is accompaniment, togetherness and belongingness.”

After graduating from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines, Roa volunteered with Jesuit Volunteers Philippines, working with coconut farmers. Now Roa works as director of recruitment, outreach and former Jesuit volunteer engagement at Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the U.S.

While not missionary work — that is work fully dedicated to proclamation, or sharing the great story of Jesus with others — men engaging in the church’s volunteer work provide a credible Catholic witness to the gospel.

Roa described the positive impact that men bring to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

“A lot of our clients are male,” he said. “The low-income oppression hits the breadwinners much more, and that happens to be guys a lot.”

“So having male volunteers is an easier gap to fill because a male breadwinner who is being oppressed by low income and the lack of access to financial freedom will relate,” Roa said. “He will allow a male volunteer to accompany him.”

Roa emphasized that Jesuit Volunteer Corps isn’t supposed to be a long-term commitment, and distinguished “a line between a vocation as a missionary, and work as a volunteer.”

Josh Wetmore, after working professionally, volunteered with Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and eventually involved himself in mission work. Growing up in Pennsylvania and raised by two successful architects, Wetmore always expected to follow in his parents’ footsteps as a high-achiever.

But he felt “trapped by the corporate ladder thing,” Wetmore told OSV News.

So he joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working first with the Racquet Up Detroit program and then with Steel City Squash in Pittsburgh. Now 33, Wetmore serves as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in El Salvador, where he serves as a teacher, tutor and catechist.

“It’s not the ‘things’ that make me happy,” Wetmore said, “it is the people.” Focusing on relationships, Wetmore finds that service work is a “two-way street.” He emphasized that he is “working with them, not working for them.”

Josh Wetmore, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in El Salvador, is pictured in an undated photo. (OSV News photo)

At 24, Jacob Coonradt also volunteered as a teacher with Seton Teaching Fellows, a program that sends teachers to schools in communities that lack resources. Originally from Michigan, Coonradt was sent to the South Bronx, New York.

After his time with Seton Teaching Fellows, Coonradt taught in Denver, Colorado. Now 29, he works for Seton Teaching Fellows as a recruitment manager.

Coonradt is aware that teaching younger children is a profession not often chosen by men — but it is an area where they can make a great difference in their lives.

“I think it’s fear that stops a lot of men from placing themselves in situations where they can spend time with children,” he told OSV News. “I think a lot of men don’t realize the gift and the natural fatherhood they possess.”

Coonradt compared serving on mission to the life of St. Joseph.

“St. Joseph didn’t say a single thing in the Bible, right? But he listened and he chose to show up. That’s all he did. It’s that sort of receptive love,” he said. “His own paternal fiat was the choice to follow through on it, be obedient to God and just be there for the Holy Family. That’s all we’re called to do. Just show up.”