Friday, January 24, 2020 - Updated: 1:14 pm
When Culture Project missionary Erick Marquez spoke to a middle-school classroom about the dignity of human life, he told students that every person is willed, necessary, and his or her existence is not an accident. That’s when one girl’s eyes filled with tears.
“She said, ‘You have no idea how much I needed to hear that today,’” Marquez recalled. “I will never forget that girl’s face.”
Marquez is one of five missionaries from the Culture Project who will set up shop in the diocese in February, thanks to a grant from Our Campaign for The Church Alive! The Culture Project is an initiative of young people seeking to restore virtue and sexual integrity, and uphold the dignity of life in the culture.
“The Culture Project’s goal when we go to a new city is to go to the young people and say: ‘You are not who the world says you are. We will remind you who you are,’” said Cristina Barba, president of the Culture Project.
She said that the Culture Project begins by drawing young people back to the basic truth that all human lives have inherent dignity and worth, evidenced by church teachings and biological facts. After establishing this groundwork, they address chastity, sexual integrity, social media best practices and virtue. Their work, primarily tailored to youth and young adults, is steeped in St. John Paul II’s teachings on theology of the body.
Before they begin work, the missionaries undergo extensive training from nationally and internationally renowned medical doctors, psychologists and theologians. They also learn how to offer stories from their own lives as compelling testimonies.
Once work begins, the missionaries first give large-scale presentations at school assemblies, followed by teaching in individual classrooms. They eat lunch with students, building relationships and allowing time for students to ask questions. They also offer sessions for parents, bolstering them as they support teenagers striving for virtue.
“The role of these missionaries is to be present and accompany, but also to teach the beauty and goodness of Catholicism to young people,” said Gary Roney, diocesan director of youth and young adult engagement. He said the engaging way the missionaries live their faith is a great witness to young people.
Barba said the missionaries will seamlessly integrate into existing ministries, noting that, “Our job is to come in and support what’s happening and to build upon it.”
Father Adam Potter, who works extensively with young people through his roles as chaplain to Oakland Catholic High School and Oakland Young Adult Ministry, echoed Barba’s comments.
“I really believe with all of my heart that there is fertile soil in Pittsburgh,” he said. “The Culture Project will come in and complement so many good efforts and programs already in place.”
While pursuing virtue is difficult, the missionaries’ work shows why it is worthwhile, Father Potter said.
“The Culture Project presents a life of virtue as a life that is attractive, achievable, fulfilling and satisfying,” he said.
To invite the Culture Project to speak at a parish, school or community event, visit https://diopitt.org/the-culture-project. There is no cost to book them.