Sharing the beauty of selfless love

When Culture Project team leader Erick Marquez tells Catholic teens that they can make a big impact if they choose virtue over a throwaway society, their faces light up.

“They don’t have to be heroes in comic books to be great. They can rise up and be the saints that the world needs right now,” he said.

The young adult Catholic missionaries are reaching out to teens, parents and their peers with a message that God made everyone for greatness, which is achieved through virtue, sexual integrity and upholding the dignity of human life.

A Culture Project team of five young adults returned to the diocese in September, thanks to a grant from Our Campaign for The Church Alive! They are available for in-person and virtual presentations.

They share stories from their own lives in explaining how each person is priceless, as evidenced by biology and Church teaching. Team members examine chastity, sexual integrity, social issues, social media best practices and virtue, guided by the teachings of St. John Paul II in his Theology of the Body.

“The missionaries are connecting with young people on the topic of human dignity and the unique, unrepeatable worth of every human person at a time when people are struggling with that,” said Gary Roney, diocesan director of youth and young adult engagement, citing turmoil from the pandemic and from racial and political unrest.

Between February and May 2020, the Culture Project team connected with 900 students and 160 adults throughout the diocese. The missionaries gave presentations at schools, parishes, college campuses and community events until the pandemic hit in March. They transitioned to virtual presentations for the rest of the semester.

Their presentation left one 8th grader awestruck.

“I think that the presentation was awesome! We have had similar presentations in the past … but this was by far the best,” said the student, who attends St. Bede School in Pittsburgh’s East End.

Prior to beginning their outreach, the missionaries undergo extensive training from doctors, psychologists and theologians. They also learn how to offer their own testimony in a compelling way.

Missionary Peyton Thomasson sees the power that their life stories have to affect audiences. To high school students and young adults, it’s like hearing from an older brother or sister, or a peer who understands them and their culture, she said.

Joe Aul, a parishioner at Most Precious Blood of Jesus Parish, North Side, supports the Culture Project financially and prayerfully because he sees it champion authentic love and virtue in a society that can encourage people to merely use each other. 

“Our culture has a very skewed concept of love, in particular, sexual love,” he said. “The Culture Project inserts itself into that debate and presents the beauty of selfless love.”

Aul has gotten to know the Pittsburgh mission team and is excited about their work in the diocese.

“They’re all amazing, beautiful people who are striving for holiness,” he said. “We’re really blessed to have them.”

The missionaries are available to speak to groups in person or virtually, at no cost. For in-person presentations, they wear masks and observe the rules of social distancing. To invite them, visit:

From left, Culture Project missionaries Brendan Avila, MacKenzi Thibodeaux, Olivia Buak, Peyton Anne Thomasson and Erick Marquez