Carolina Perez, a young adult leader from Chicago, lives out her Christian calling to be a missionary disciple by striving to build a more loving society.
P ope Francis emphasized in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that a “Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice.” Carolina Perez, a young adult leader from Chicago, is not afraid to “take the first step.” She gives of herself, always looking out for those in the margins.
I’ve known Carolina since her late teens and have witnessed her passion for mission. Now in her mid-20s, she represents the face of a vibrant young Hispanic church.
“I live out my call of missionary discipleship by forming community and working in pastoral de conjunto to build a more loving, merciful and just society,” she says. (Pastoral de conjunto, or communion in mission, is a model of Church that is communitarian, evangelizing and missionary.)
Carolina, or Caro, has evolved from a ministry leader in her parish and archdiocese to an emerging leader in national organizations such as The National Catholic Network of Pastoral Juvenil Hispana-La Red and the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry-NCCHM.
She was a catalyst in encouraging young adults in her region to engage in the National V Encuentro of Hispanic Ministry’s multi-year process. She also leads a committee organizing the 2022 Raíces y Alas Congress, a national Catholic congress in Hispanic ministry.
In addition, Carolina is pursuing a master’s degree in justice ministry at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. “After I graduate, I hope to be able to educate more people in Catholic social teaching, which is very close to my heart,” she says, “not just to educate, but to accompany and walk with young people in the Church and the peripheries of society.”
Carolina is impressed by Maryknoll’s vision and mission, particularly the focus on Catholic social teaching. “I truly love that component of being a missionary disciple who is called to action,” she says, adding that a Maryknoll missionary discipleship retreat in 2014 impacted her life. “Even though I already had a heart that was partly missionary, the commissioning at the end (of the retreat) was the push I needed. … It encouraged me to take ownership of that vocation.”
Two years ago, Carolina successfully organized a group of young adults from Chicago to participate in World Youth Day in Panama. As the group’s mentor, I witnessed how Carolina helped participants from five different parishes live out the experience as a pilgrimage rather than merely a trip.
Pope Francis describes youth as “the age of choice” and suggests young people should not be “afraid to take chances and make mistakes.” He must have had in mind young people like Carolina, who work for the common good and live in the present as courageous missionaries.
She has been a bridge-builder in her ministry to Hispanic/Latino young people. Drawing on her Mexican roots, she understands their culture, values, and the importance of religion and family to them.
Carolina is part of the young adult empowerment communities that Maryknoll started in 2020 to help young people grow in faith and mission. “I was drawn by the action component,” she says. “There are not many local organizations that support Hispanic ministry and social ministry, so that differentiates Maryknoll from other opportunities.”
Focusing on her goal to be a mission educator, Carolina says, “That missionary spirit that’s instilled in me since I was 19 continues to see the fruits of sharing faith and community to be an Iglesia en salida (a Church that goes forth).”
Featured image: Carolina Perez (third from right) with other participants at a discernment conference called Catholics on Call at Catholic Theological Union. (Courtesy of Carolina Perez/U.S.)