Some young adults across the Diocese of Phoenix plan to make their summer count.

They won’t get college credit for it, but brownie points in heaven are entirely possible. Neither is their sole reason for taking an array of service mission trips, however.

For some, the chance to experience life in another country is a bit of a draw, but even more so is the ability to step out of their comfort zone and know they’re helping someone truly in need. It all began May 14. That’s when Monica Gabriele began a three-day orientation for a month-long mission continuing the work of a saint who once visited the diocese: Mother Teresa. Gabriele is headed to Calcutta.

Monica Gabriele will travel to India this summer to continue the work of St. Mother Teresa. (courtesy photo)

Following a saint

Gabriele long knew of Mother Teresa’s work and heard about an array of mission opportunities during a conference her freshman year.

“I wanted to apply every summer, but I couldn’t because I had a job lined up or something,” Gabriele said.

Well, with Northern Arizona University in her rearview mirror just three days before departure, Gabriele’s schedule finally opened up. She is one of 15 in Calcutta with four Fellowship of Catholic University Student missionaries through mid-June. FOCUS is taking young adult Catholics across the country on nine international missions in May alone and four stateside. Nearly 40 international destinations are planned for July with only one in June — but 56 summer missions total in the U.S. and worldwide.

FOCUS Missions

See where they’ll be this summer

Return here in September to apply for the 2019 season

It’s a mission of “extremes,” the India mission’s webpage said: heat, sounds, smells and emotion, “but most of all, an extreme encounter with Christ himself.” Another extreme: they won’t touch phones or social media while there.

Gabriele is ready to embrace it all. She knows Mother Teresa helped, loved and taught God’s children, even those who were adults. “I just want to spread God’s love to everyone in whatever I’m called to do. I feel called to help those who feel unloved,” Gabriele said.

Her group will also visit the Taj Mahal and stop at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier on India’s west coast during its return voyage.


Hidden Caribbean

About a week into the FOCUS journey, 10 students and two Servants of the Plan of God affiliated with the All Saints Newman Center at Arizona State University in Tempe head to the often-overlooked parts of Jamaica. They will spend May 20-27 supporting the Missionaries of the Poor.

(courtesy photo)

The missionaries serve the most marginalized people in Kingston, Jamaica including youth at risk, those struggling with mental or physical disabilities and those without a home.

College students rotate a week at a time all summer long carrying out these works of mercy in shelters and on the streets. Claire Carmody is confident that memory will be forever in her heart.

Adults reflect on service in Jamaica

A son-in-law finally experiences what his father-in-law had for years

From a dad who went with his teens

It’s easy and natural to grow up with one mindset, Carmody said. Service mission trips “open college students’ eyes to what’s really going on in the world and where we need to be taking action and how much we need to be taking action.”

Carmody, who plans to work in nonprofit leadership and management, dreams of opening an orphanage in Mexico. It would serve children whose parents are in America, but for now, it’s enough to be headed to Jamaica where she will grow in patience and the ability to love in every situation. The astute outgoing college freshman said that will prepare her and fellow missionaries for a vocation to marriage or religious life.

For some, the summer mission will be their first time out of the country. It’s the Newman Center’s first time in Jamaica. Campus leaders plan to offer a mission trip to a border city in Mexico each winter and one elsewhere each summer. Parishes and donors helped make the journey a reality.

“The students are open to working with people that experience another kind of suffering, especially due to mental disabilities or because they have been living on the streets. The students are very excited to be on mission using the language of love and not just the language of words,” Sr. Maria José Correa said. She expects the witness of the Missionaries of the Poor to also move students.


Central America with SOLT

Cynthia Lopez is thrilled to be among 15 missionaries from across the country headed to Belize along the Guatemala border. She longed for something more relational than the house she built in Sonora with her Spanish class.

Fortunately, she knew of some sisters from the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity who had been guests at the Holy Trinity Newman Center at NAU in Flagstaff. So when the elementary education major noticed a flyer about a SOLT mission trip rooted in evangelization, she applied.

Cynthia Lopez, a member of the Holy Trinity Newman Center in Flagstaff, poses for this undated photo. (courtesy photo)

Even better: they’ll be teaching catechesis to children and leading a three-day parish mission for youth. Lopez, who is already bilingual and double majoring in Spanish, looks forward to every opportunity during the May 26-June 7 journey.

“It feels almost impossible to obtain, but I hope the Lord can use this as a radical conversion in my life,” Lopez said, noting in detail the exemplary faith of St. Clare of Assisi, especially when facing opposition.

She wants to have the heart to go rise and go through each day trusting in the Lord, especially as she enters her final year of college not knowing what lies beyond. Lopez was among many missionaries certain that the people they serve will teach her far more than what she can offer in return.

”They will probably also teach me to trust. They get up every day not knowing what they’re going to eat … yet they choose to get up every day and they do it with such joy,” Lopez said.

Donate to support her journey


Evangelizing the Philippines

Marian Escio already had similar experiences in her native Philippines over spring break. The students of the Holy Spirit Newman Center at Grand Canyon University traveled with 20 peers including two friars and adult chaperones to the Bicol region, one of the poorest in the Legazti area. Many fellow missionaries had never been out of the country.

The journey allowed them to feed and be in fellowship with orphans and disabled children and adults. Their “mountain ministry” essentially equated to that of a Vincentian home visit through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They went house to house, or more accurately, shack to shack, to deliver food and pray with the people living inside. Escio compared houses to the size of a single family bedroom in the U.S. with up to 10 people living inside. “One woman when they asked for prayers, she said, ‘I really don’t need prayers. I need a house.’ When they stepped in, the whole floor sank.”

Members and friars of the Holy Spirit Newman Center at Grand Canyon State University pose with vocational school students in March in the Philippines. Newman Center students spent spring break serving and praying with the people. (Courtesy)

What they lack in physical property, the Filipinos made up for in spirituality. Escio’s uncle is a Salesian priest in the area and laid the groundwork for the Holy Spirit Newman Center to host healing Masses and a retreat for local college students. Some 500 attended one healing Mass and double for the other. The retreat featured talks on anointing of the Holy Spirit and a charismatic prayer service.

“All of us have the gift of tongues, spiritual gift of healing,” Escio told The Catholic Sun two days after graduating from GCU. The Philippines is 80 percent Catholic, but an agnostic was among the retreat crowd. He later told a priest that he believed.

Other youth almost “mobbed” Fr. Ignatius Mazanowski, FHS, as he brought the monstrance through the crowd because the youth wanted to be physically close to the Eucharist. Daily Mass and certainly widespread Adoration are not the norm.

“They re-awakened our faith to how special the Eucharist is,” Escio said. “They taught us to be humble no matter what situation you’re in … because these were people who had absolutely nothing, but because they had Christ, now they acted like they had everything.”

Feel called to be a missionary?

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Ohio are organizing its first international experience with “Live the Good” volunteers.

Where: Nicaragua

When: Aug. 28-Sept. 4

What: Helping “Special Families of Saint Julie Billiart” alongside the sisters

Info: email Sr. Kristin,


U.S. opportunities: now through November, including Phoenix. Info