|| By Gerald Kelly, M.M.

Father Gerald Kelly, director of the Maryknoll Society’s Southern Regional Mission Center in Houston, Texas, introduces two teens with common roots and vision.

James and Christina Matl share more than family ties. This brother and sister from Corpus Christi, Texas, also share a love for mission. They wrote about it in the 2013 Maryknoll Student Essay Contest. James’ essay won third place in Division II. Christina’s entry was among the top 10 picks. This is the first time a brother and sister were finalists in our essay contest.

As chairperson for the Texas Mission Conference, I was fascinated to read about the mission experiences these siblings described as students at Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi.
After he repaired the porch of an elderly woman in the Texas town of Asherton, James wrote, “I had previously thought happiness was directly related to your life circumstances. However, this woman proved to me that no material good is necessary to achieve happiness.”

Christina, who participated in a mission trip to Big Wells, Texas, said that in the midst of poverty, she discovered a deeper dimension to her faith in a live re-enactment of the Way of the Cross. “I understand the sufferings of the people now,” she said. “I have tried to continue that mission experience at home. Often my acts of service are simply helping a child tie his shoelaces or driving my elderly, homebound neighbor to the store.”

I wanted to meet these two young people and find out what led them to mission. So I drove down to Corpus Christi. As soon as I got to Incarnate Word Academy, I could feel the mission spirit that permeates the school of almost 320 students.

Incarnate Word Sister Rosa Ortiz, director of missions, told me, “Over one-third of our students participate in mission trips. We demand an in-depth commitment to prepare for the mission trip all year. We have a two-hour session each week for a semester to reflect on what God is calling us to do.” Students, she said, get a taste of mission spending a week helping poor residents in four towns in the Laredo Diocese, where local parishes provide a place for them to stay. “Prayer is an important part of the experience,” she said.

Christina and James Matl share family ties and mission spirit. (G. Kelly/U.S.)

“Our students need a real experience of being related to the poor,” said Principal José Torres. “Most of our kids come from upper- and middle-class families. They come to realize that their Catholic faith guides them to share what they have received.”

Realizing that Christian attitudes begin at home, I visited with Peter and Lisa Matl, the parents of James and Christina, who also have five other children. “We sacrifice to make these mission trips possible,” they said. “Yet our family is strengthened and closer because of these experiences. We have deepened our family bonds.”

James and Christina and their family show us that forming relationships is fundamental to mission. “We are open to mutuality and being led by those we serve,” says James, who graduated from Incarnate Word in June and now begins college at Texas A&M.

“It is about sharing who we are more than what we do,” adds Christina, now a senior at Incarnate Word. “Our presence is the most important thing we have to offer. Mission is about being rather than doing.”

None of us seasoned missioners could say it better. Thank you, James and Christina and all who nurture your mission spirit. You give us hope for the future.