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Altar server Ella Hiddleston of St. Cecilia School processes out of St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha at the eighth-grade Catholic Schools Week Mass for Omaha-area schools. She is followed by Justyce Cribbs of St. Cecilia and Ryan Watterson of St. Stephen the Martyr School, also in Omaha. Photo by Susan Szalewski for the Catholic Voice

Archbishop George J. Lucas greets Luca Grabowski of St. Stephen the Martyr School in Omaha after the Catholic Schools Week Eighth-Grade Mass. Awaiting the archbishop is her classmate, Alexa Olderbak. The Mass was Feb. 1 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha. Photo by Susan Szalewski for the Catholic Voice

Archbishop stresses evangelization at CSW Mass

“Imagine,” Archbishop George J. Lucas challenged about 1,200 eighth-graders packed into St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha on Feb. 1.
 
He asked the students at the annual Catholic Schools Week Eighth-Grade Mass for Omaha-area schools to close their eyes and go along with him as he spoke. 
 
Imagine, he said, if you were asked to pair up with another student and go out onto the streets of Omaha – with your parents’ permission but without money or cell phones – to knock on doors and share your experience of Jesus with others.
 
The students might talk about their lives, their schools and how they see Christ at work. They might ask people how they are doing and if there’s anything they would like them to pray for, as the students visit homes, banks, hospitals, grocery stores and homeless shelters.
 
Some people likely would welcome the students and allow them to share, but others might reject them, Archbishop Lucas said.
 
“I would bet that if you’re imagining you’re doing this it would seem a little frightening,” the archbishop said, as he brought the exercise to a close. But he reminded the eighth-graders of the Gospel they had just heard, how Jesus sent his disciples on a similar mission.
 
“Jesus had confidence in them,” Archbishop Lucas said. And the disciples trusted Jesus so much “they summoned up the courage to try.”
 
The disciples had two things going for them, he said: “They spent time with Jesus and had gotten to know him,” gaining a “strong, personal knowledge” of Christ and a relationship with him. And eventually, the disciples had the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help them.
 
Today, Catholic schools help students develop a closeness to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit empowers them at confirmation, Archbishop Lucas said.
 
Jesus probably won’t be sending out the eighth-graders without money or cell phones, but they should look for opportunities to share their faith, he said.
 
“I can assure you that Jesus will speak to you in the years ahead,” the archbishop said, and he will illuminate how to “dedicate your life to be his witness in the world.”
 
“He’s going to stay close to you to reveal his love and care for you.”
 
Gracie Yaghmour and Stephanie Schrader of St. Wenceslaus School in Omaha are band members who played music for the Mass and listened to the homily from the cathedral choir loft. They said their school has helped prepare them to be disciples, especially through service, such as food drives and fundraisers to help pregnant women in crisis situations, cancer victims and members of religious orders. They will be confirmed in April and after graduation plan to go to V. J. and Angela Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.
 
Claire Adams, of St. Cecilia School, which helped host the Mass for students from 28 schools, said she might not be comfortable evangelizing door to door, but she’s confident she can share her faith in other ways, especially through the vocation God is calling her to.
 
Her classmate, Ella Hiddleston, agreed. “Jesus does have a plan for us, even if we don’t know it now.”
 
Hiddleston wants to attend Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Omaha for high school. Adams plans to go to Omaha Central High School. They were confirmed in November and said they hope to stay close to their St. Cecilia classmates. The school has taught them to work hard and persevere, Hiddleston said. It has also
taught them to be good sports, respect others and not judge them, Adams said.
 
The archbishop concluded his homily by saying he would pray for the students, especially as many still await confirmation, and he asked them to pray for him and their priests, teachers and parents.
 
“Let’s pray for one another that we can stay close to him (Jesus) and be generous with sharing him with our neighbors,” the archbishop said.

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