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Newman Center will provide setting where UNO students encounter the risen Christ

Jesus is alive. This simple and profound truth forms the foundation of the Christian life. It animates those who have chosen to believe in the Gospel of Jesus and to live by it. Because Jesus is risen from the dead, we can put our trust in him, in his teaching about the kingdom of God and most especially in his revelation that he is the Son of God. As St. Paul reminds us, if Jesus were not risen, our life of faith would be so much vanity.

Because Jesus is alive, we are able to have a personal relationship with him. We can know him now; we do not depend only on a memory about him. The risen Jesus desires to meet us in the community of the church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we encounter the living Jesus in the Scriptures, in the authentic teachings of the church, in the Mass and the sacraments, and in the many apostolates and good works carried out by disciples of Jesus.

I am excited to share an update on a new opportunity for college students to encounter the risen Jesus that is taking shape in our archdiocese. The St. John Paul II Newman Center is under construction adjacent to the campus of the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO). This center is designed to be a focus of Catholic life for the UNO community for decades to come. It is scheduled to be completed and to welcome students this coming August.

A distinctive feature of our Newman Center, which will distinguish it from most others, is a student residence that will accommodate 164 young men and women in apartment-style living. We look forward to the creation of a vibrant community of students who will have a beautiful and convenient place to live while they grow in wisdom and in faith.

Dozens of students already have signed up to move into the Newman Center for the fall semester. There is still plenty of room for you or for a student in your family. Before you choose another housing option at UNO, I encourage you to consider the St. John Paul II Newman Center. Full-time students at other area colleges and universities also are welcome to apply for housing. You can find housing information on the center’s website (JPiiOmaha.org/living) or you can call Adam Ybarra (402-558-3100) with questions or to arrange a tour. I know you will be impressed at what we are offering.

When you go to the website, you will see that the Newman Center will be open to serve the entire UNO community, not only the residents. There will be plenty of space for all students to stop in, to study, to share coffee and conversation and to pray. At the heart of the facility will be a beautiful chapel where Mass will be celebrated daily and where students can stop to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

We are already blessed with a vibrant Catholic campus ministry program at UNO. It has been growing over the years as the university has grown. Father Joseph Taphorn currently directs this work, assisted by Father Andrew Roza. They will both be in residence at the Newman Center when it is completed. Working on campus everyday are FOCUS missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). They conduct Bible studies and guide students in the ways of discipleship: Mass, confessions and discussions about the Catholic faith are regularly available.

In recent years, much of the ministry for Catholic students at UNO has taken place at St. Margaret Mary Parish. I am grateful to Father Gregory Baxter, pastor, and the parishioners for welcoming the college students. Now that we are able to provide a permanent home for Catholic campus life, I expect to see an already excellent program begin to grow and benefit even more students.

During the listening sessions held around the archdiocese earlier this year, I heard repeatedly the desire to provide opportunities for young Catholics to grow in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to commit to live as his disciples. The St. John Paul II Newman Center will become an important way to answer that desire for thousands of young adults in the years to come. There are other things that we must do in other settings as well. But I am very proud that the center will open soon, thanks to the dedication and generosity of so many.

St. John Paul II has been chosen as the patron of this new center, and this is very fitting. In his 1978 inaugural homily as pope, he challenged the faithful: "Brothers and sisters, be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power." The St. John Paul II Newman Center accepts this challenge by evangelizing and offering Catholic formation to students enrolled at UNO.

St. John Paul II had a special love for young adults. As a priest, bishop and pope he invested himself personally in the lives of young people, fostering in them a love for Christ and challenging them to a life of committed discipleship. He taught beautifully about the relationship between faith and reason. He will be a great patron and model for our Catholic students.

Please join me in praying for God’s blessing on this important project. Take a look at the website (JPiiOmaha.org) for regular updates and program announcements. Drive by 71st and Pacific in Omaha and have a look at the construction. And remember, there is still time to secure a home away from home for next fall.

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