– Less than two weeks before Pope Francis will arrive for a pastoral visit to Chile, more than 2,500 college students were sent on mission to serve the country’s rural Catholic communities.
The young people, who come from 40 different schools, will fan out to 90 communities across Chile to spend 10 days sharing their faith with more than one million families, leading youth and family activities, and building chapels.
A Jan. 2 send-off Mass at the National Shrine of Maipú was celebrated by the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who said that “the Church in Chile needs to go out of itself.”
“Looking at all of you, we see that the Church is alive. A Church that’s in the communities, in the university. That’s the Church that Pope Francis will find in Chile and it’s your mission to take her to the streets,” he said during his homily.
During the Mass, young people presented the Chilean flag and missionary crosses, before professing promises to be faithful to their missions, while standing at the feet of a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Patroness and Queen of Chile.
The students will participate in two projects: some will build churches in rural towns, and some will lead evangelization retreats in the same villages. The mission projects were organized by the Chilean Catholic University and by an offshoot Catholic college offering technical and professional degrees.
The projects were inspired by the pontiff’s call to young people to “stir things up,” which he made at the 2014 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
When the pope meets with the young people at the National Shrine of Maipú on Jan. 17, they will present him a flag signed by those who took part in the mission projects, and a scale model of a rural chapel, which represents the evangelization of the peripheries of Chile.
“Welcoming Francis’s message, our initial goal was to build 50 chapels in the peripheries and to symbolically give them to the pope. Before his visit we will be able to complete this project,” explained the director of Catholic University’s Campus Ministry, Guillermo Tagle.
The church-building project “originated for and because of the pope. We are preparing Chile for his visit, we’re going out to evangelize just before he arrives. The construction of the chapels is done in conjunction with the local communities and they also have to prepare themselves to receive the pope’s message,” added María Jesús Figueroa, who directs the project.
The evangelization project has taken place for 15 years, “guided by Our Lady of Mount Carmel as the first missionary and the symbol of Chile’s union in Christ, and of service to the Church,” said Milan Kovacevic, who directs the evangelization groups.
This article was originally published by ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.