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ArchOmaha Unite offers opportunity to celebrate shared faith

She kept offering excuses – she didn’t want to go.  But Ana Martinez finally gave in to her mother’s urgings – and, as a result, underwent a life-changing experience. 

Martinez, 21, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Norfolk, said participating in a Hispanic retreat, Jovenes Para Cristo (Youth for Christ) in 2016, helped her experience God’s love and turn her life around.

Now she looks forward to deepening that experience, in unity with the broader Catholic community, on June 8, when she will attend the archdiocese’s ArchOmaha Unite, a daylong experience of the Catholic faith at Omaha’s CHI Health Center arena.

Martinez, who now works in Hispanic ministry at her parish, said she was “depressed, alone and angry at the world” at age 18. Keeping company with “toxic friends,” she was into drugs and alcohol, and had just experienced a bad relationship breakup.

Thanks to her mother’s insistence that she attend the retreat, she relented, and that’s where, during Eucharistic adoration, Martinez had a deep experience of God’s love.

A retreat leader explained that God is a gentleman and if people don’t want him in their hearts, he won’t force his way in, she said. “So I told God, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll let you enter into my heart,’ and that’s when I realized how much he loves me,” she said.

That experience helped Martinez turn her life around and embrace her Catholic faith.

And she expects Unite to reinforce that faith, knowing others are standing by her side. 

She heard about the event in September during a parish orientation session for priests, parish staff and volunteers in Norfolk. Others were held in West Point and Omaha. And the archdiocese now is announcing Unite at parishes and through media outlets.

“It will be a great place to meet people who are focused on the same things you are,” Martinez said.

That’s one of the opportunities Unite will offer, said Deacon Tim McNeil, chancellor of the archdiocese, “for the faithful in northeast Nebraska to come together to celebrate what binds us all – Jesus Christ.”

With the timing of the event – on the eve of Pentecost – “it’s metaphorically the faithful going to the upper room to experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will unite us and eliminate our differences,” he said.

Father Bernard Starman, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill and St. Joseph Parish in Amelia, said Unite should help build unity by reducing differences, such as geographic distance.

“Simply gathering people from all the areas of the archdiocese in one spot for such a celebration can only be a visible sign that we are, in fact, one church,” he said.

“Sometimes when you’re as remote as some of our rural parishes are, we lose sight of that, and this is an opportunity for people to feel connected with each other,” Father Starman said.

“As the church is trying to live out the New Evangelization, I think this will give new energy and life to the folks who attend and they’ll bring that back with them.”

Deacon McNeil said it will be a “first of its kind gathering and a once in a lifetime experience.”

“We hope that every person who chooses to attend receives an outpouring and infusion of the Holy Spirit, and will be motivated to go out and spread the Good News of the Gospel in a missionary spirit,” he said.