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Benedictine Sister Carol Jean VanDenHemel, foreground, Benedictine Brother August Schaefer, Connor Kerschinske, a St. John Paul II Newman Center parishioner, and Father Andrew Roza, associate pastor and archdiocesan vocations director, enjoy building relationships while building “settlements” with the Settlers of Catan board game Feb. 3 at the center near the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Photo by Elizabeth Wells/For the Catholic Voice

Prayer, games highlight Newman Center gathering

A promise of prayer, food and board games drew about two dozen students and young adults to a gathering with priests and members of consecrated life communities at the St. John Paul II Newman Center near the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) campus.
 
“I saw an ad on Facebook, and I’ve always loved playing games, and it’s cool to hear how different people are called in different ways,” said Matt Davis, a sophomore at UNO and a Newman Center resident. “I thought I might see a couple of my teachers from Mount Michael (Benedictine School near Elkhorn).” 
 
Visiting and game-playing Feb. 3 came after evening prayer in the Newman Center’s oratory, led by Archbishop George J. Lucas.  He used the opportunity to thank all consecrated men and women for adding “strength to the fabric of the church and building up the Body of Christ.”
 
As they emerged from the chapel, one woman said she’d brought the game Bananagrams. Someone else said he had the Settlers of Catan. Some began playing games immediately, while others sampled the food first. 
 
“Oh man, they had fruits and vegetables and chicken salad on croissants that were really good,” Davis said.
 
It was the perfect setting for sharing vocations, said Jessi Kary, local moderator for the Apostolic Oblates in Omaha. The event was part of celebrating the 22nd World Day of Consecrated Life. It also reflected Pope Francis’ urging established members of religious communities to share their encounters with Christ and their calls to the religious life. 
 
“The Holy Father is calling us to share the gift of our vocation. Here (at the Newman Center) we are able to do this with a population that is asking God what he wants them to do with their lives,” Kary said. 
 
Vocations do not happen in a vacuum, said Monica Hejkal, an Apostolic Oblate who shared her story during the prayer service.
 
“I was praying for a good, strong husband, one who could protect me from everything,” said Hejkal, who also offers spiritual direction at the Newman Center. As she prayed the rosary’s sorrowful mystery of the scourging of Jesus, she said, Jesus “turned to me and asked me, ‘Is this the kind of husband you want?’” 
 
That encounter provided the grace for her to say yes to her vocation, Hejkal said. She encouraged others to reflect on their encounters and the call of Christ and “ask for grace … to say yes forever in your hearts and to bring (Jesus) to others and receive him from others.”
 
That kind of sharing is why Sister Julissa Sauzameda came to the gathering. 
 
“I didn’t know about the sisters until a member of their third order introduced me to them when I was a student at the Newman Center in Wichita, Kansas,” said the novice with the Leaven of Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters from South Sioux City.
 
Laughter rang out as Sister Julissa dined, played games and visited with students. Just a step away, relative silence as people concentrated on Bananagrams and laughed as Archbishop Lucas and other religious visited with students.
 
The games were fun, Davis said, including Bible versions of Apples to Apples and Taboo. 
 
“The sisters knew all the answers. I struggled and they’d get five cards each round,” Davis said. “People have misconceptions about people in consecrated life. You think they’re always praying, but they have fun too.” 
 
Kary said she was pleased with the turnout, adding, “it’s always more fun to come together in an informal setting where we can just be with each other.”
 
Davis said he is still deciding what to do with his life, but would not rule out a religious vocation. For now, he said he appreciates interacting with men and women religious who are “super inviting and kind.”

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