Some of the Catholic club students join with Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, in the gym after Mass at Cal State East Bay.
Garvin Tso/CSUEB, COURTESY PHOTO
It was the Catholic ministry at California State University East Bay's big night: Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, would celebrate Mass Oct. 19 at Pioneer Gym on the Hayward hilltop campus.
"It's great to be here tonight at Cal State East Bay," the bishop said as Mass began. "For a few minutes tonight, this gymnasium becomes a cathedral."
Joined by parishioners from All Saints, the Hayward parish just down the hill that sponsors the CSUEB Catholic Club, students filled chairs and bleachers on one side of the gym. About 400 people, students and parishioners, attended the Mass.
The ministry's importance was reflected in comments by some of its members, who served as greeters, musicians and lectors and staffed tables, filled with information about upcoming events, at the Mass.
Stephanie Luna, a third-year student at the hilltop campus, became involved with the ministry when she first arrived at Cal State. Today she is president of the club.
Home is Los Angeles, six hours away, "I came here by myself," she said. "I was very lonely." The Catholic Club had a table at orientation; she took a flyer and put it in her pocket.
When the paper later found its way out of her pocket, she read that Bible study would be offered that night.
"I felt God's call," she said.
The communications major, who hopes to go into media production, said, "I grew up Catholic, but I didn't understand what it meant to be Catholic."
The ministry, she said, has helped her tap into the roots of her faith. "It's such a wonderful experience," she said. "I've learned the meaning of relationship. It has shaped me to be the person I am."
With a mailing list in the hundreds, the ministry has upward of 50 active members, with about half a dozen forming the ministry team leadership, she said.
The support of All Saints Parish is felt financially as well as physically. Not only do their donations help support the ministry's activities — it costs $80,000 a year to run the Catholic ministry on campus — parishioners find their way up the hill to feed the students.
"I've noticed how much support they have for us," Luna said. She is especially grateful to the parishioners who "bring food to the ministry center."
What better way to make college students feel at home than home-cooked meals?
Eunice Park, the campus minister, prepares Thursday evening dinners at the ministry center for those who attend Feeding Faith, Thursday evening sessions that include dinner.
Park is also planning a Thanksgiving dinner for the students, to be served on Nov. 20, at the ministry center, which is located near the campus.
The "get-togetherness" of the Catholic club is also appealing to Hendrix Erhahon, a senior who serves as internal affairs vice president of the Associated Students. The club, he said, offers the opportunity "to have fun and be with Christ when we need to."
Fátima Morales, who became involved in the campus ministry when her roommate invited her to events, said, "I feel closer to home when I'm here."
In addition to Bible study and other faith sharing activities at the ministry center, the Catholic club sponsors a Mass at noon each Wednesday in the University Union. Students are joined by faculty and staff members at the Mass; their numbers swell to almost 200 on Ash Wednesday.
The parish's commitment to campus ministry is strong. "We feel the charge of Pope Francis to go out of the boundaries of the parish and meet the students where they are," said Steve Mullin, parish life director at All Saints Parish.
The students give back to the parish as well, Mullin said. "They make a difference in the parish," he said, serving in youth ministry, liturgical and music ministries. They also contribute financially, he said.
For the Mass at Pioneer Gym, the 11-member musical group included several students, including Alyssa Lumba, a second year student, and Kevin Dyer, a graduate of St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, who is a first-year student.
The Cal State East Bay Catholic Club is one of 30 religious clubs and organizations on the campus. The groups are self-supporting, but can receive funds for events from the Associated Students.
"They provide important continuity for students, and opportunity for exploration for other students," said Stan Hebert, associate vice president of student affairs at the university, who attended the Sunday evening Mass.
They also provide a community for students to find friends and fellowship, he said. About 10 percent of the university's 14,000 students live in campus housing.
The importance of campus ministry is clear to Patti Collyer, coordinator for youth and young adult ministry with the diocese and an adviser to the Catholic club.
"It sets a precedent for the rest of their lives," she said. "If we don't help them maintain a Catholic identity during these years, we might not get them back."
Involvement in campus ministry leads to a greater likelihood of being involved in the church later in life, and in raising their own children in the faith.
The goal, she said, is to "be missionary disciples."
In his homily, the bishop said, "Whenever I meet students, I ask, 'What's your plan?'"
A typical plan might be college, graduate school, career, enough money to have a nice home, have a family and retire.
"Then what?" the bishop asked. "What's your plan? How far ahead are you planning?"
"If you're smart you'll take into your plan your whole life," he said. "If you're really smart, then what? What about eternal life?"
Eternal life may seem distant, he told the students, but it might not be if you are in the military, he said.
He drew on his experiences ministering to Marines days before the start of the Iraq war. "I'm going to have Mass and I'm going to have confession. Anybody want to come?
He encouraged the students to avail themselves of the sacrament of confession. "By going to confession you can have every sin in your whole life absolved," he reminded them.
"Keep your end in view when you are planning your life goal," he said. "We were made to be with God in heaven. Know what it takes to get there."
In keeping with the basketball theme, at the end of Mass, Mullin declared the day "a slam dunk."
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