Skip to comments.From sinner to saved, from Cameroon to Zagreb; Two Men Talk of Hope
Posted on 06/08/2011 8:44:46 AM PDT by marshmallow
ZAGREB, Croatia (CNS) -- Among the throngs of young people attending a prayer vigil with Pope Benedict XVI was a modern-day St. Augustine and an African missionary sent by his congregation to evangelize Catholic Croatia.
Daniel, a 25-year-old Croatian, took the stage and told the pope and some 50,000 people gathered in a post-thunderstorm, puddle-strewn Ban Josip Jelacic Square about his life of rebellion and debauchery.
Daniel, the oldest of four children, was raised in a deeply Catholic home. He was an altar boy and his parents taught him to pray every day, he said.
But by the time he reached middle school, he said going to church and sitting through the sermons became intolerably boring.
His parents made him go to Mass, he said, and he wondered "what kind of God is this that I am being forced to love, who I had to love out of obligation" and who forbade him from doing lots of things.
Daniel said he was hungry for love and began to drink, smoke and live it up with his friends. "My spiritual life went down the tubes," he said.
After years of this spiritual "wandering," one day he found himself in a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. He prayed silently and immediately felt the weight of all the sins he had been accumulating for so long.
"I cried out: 'Jesus, you've been calling me my whole life and I've never answered, yet here I am, I have come.'"
All of a sudden he was overcome by a feeling of love and felt like his soul had been cleansed.
All this time, he said, he thought Jesus was only there to destroy his life, erase his identity and drive his friends away. Instead, he said, it was only after he found Christ that "I received love, joy, peace, meaning in life, friends and countless experiences."
He then revealed to the crowd that after four years of reflection and discernment, he was now on his way to becoming a priest. He went from feeling unworthy and afraid to feeling joy and excitement over his new vocation, he said.
Daniel was just one of thousands of young people with a unique spiritual experience who had gathered for the evening vigil.
A young priest from Cameroon stuck out from the predominately fair-skinned crowd. Father Alfonse Mehvo, a missionary with the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception, told Catholic News Service that he had just been sent to Zagreb by his order to help evangelize young people.
He and a fellow missionary were to set up a number of social projects and educational programs for young people in the newly erected Diocese of Sisak; it was re-established as a residential diocese by Pope Benedict in 2009.
Just two months ago, Father Mehvo was working in Tirana, Albania, "So I don't speak Croatian very well. I'm just now trying to read the Gospel in Croatian," he said.
The congregation offers care for the sick, poor and marginalized, formation for young people in need and health services in more than a dozen countries.
He said he is very encouraged to see so many young people go to church; "it's not just old people" in the pews.
"The Catholic Church is very dynamic here. I am very proud to be here and to be able to see the pope come to Croatia," he said.
Father Mehvo, who studied in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University and has a doctorate from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University, said he takes as his inspiration the order's Croatian Brother Ivan Bonifacio Pavletic, who was born in Sisak county and died at the age of 33 in 1897 in Rome, where the cause for his canonization was to be opened.
"He's a model for young people. I try to follow this brother's example" who cared for the sick, worked with the order's founder Blessed Luigi Monti and helped form the younger brothers, he said.
"I am praying to God to help me evangelize. I have a big responsibility with this project and there are just two of us" creating the new pastoral programs, he said.
He said, "We have to promote love and peace in the world; this is the message of Christ: love, peace and bring people together."
Great story. I judge he will go on to evangelize many youth with his story.