August 19, 2021
Faith, as the saying goes, is like a little seed. If you plant it, it will grow.
It is in this way that some diocesan ministry leaders serve as gardeners of the soul. This is certainly true for those who focus on faith formation, such as Friar Mario Serrano, OFM Conv. Friar Mario acts as Director of the Newman Center Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM), which serves the San Romero University Ministry UTEP and Sul Ross campuses. The ministry relies on Progress, the Catholic Ministry Appeal, for a portion of its funding.
“These students are the future of the Church,” said Friar Mario. “They are in a place where they are discerning what they want to do. When we think about college students and discernment, we – as a society – are used to thinking about their professions and course of study. But in this ministry, we aren’t just focused on their career. The focus is on what are they being called to do with their life, and how they want to live their life.”
Catholic Campus Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso ministers to almost 30,000 people in El Paso and 3,000 people at Sul Ross State University. Activities include weekly meetings, attending Mass together on Sundays, days of reconciliation, presentations by community and organization leaders, participation in campus activities, weekend retreats, gathering for meals and study time, service and social justice projects, helping members receive sacraments if they have not yet obtained them, social gatherings and more.
“One of the first things the students learn is that living their faith isn’t simply about participating in the sacraments and checking into Sunday Mass,” Friar Mario said. “It’s about being intentional in your day-to-day. For example, where I eat, what I do, how I engage in conversation and the words I use – it all matters. One time, some of the students wanted to go eat at a restaurant that features scantily clothed waitstaff, and I had to tell them: ‘Is there any other place where we can go? A place that doesn’t objectify women and focus on their sexuality?’”
That conversation is indicative of the kind of dialogue that often happens between Friar Mario and his students.
“We have to be okay with any conversation that comes up and be truthful and authentic,” he said. “Like in this situation. When I came to Catholic Campus Ministry, I made it clear to them that I would be there to discuss whatever was important to them – and that includes sex. Sexuality is a gift and the focus of my conversation with them is: ‘How do we use this gift? Are we upholding our dignity and the dignity of others? ‘ And if the answer is no – like in the case of going to a restaurant that objectifies waitstaff – then we need to be accountable to the version of ourselves that we want to be. Because we are here, especially during this critical time for students, to grow in wisdom.”
During the pandemic, Friar Mario had to engage in creative and innovative ways to communicate with his students, but also to remind the community of his work with students. The ministry makes it a point to visit parishes in the diocese regularly to conduct outreach. Focus is also on fun social activities as well. Interested adults can help with monetary donations, serve as mentors, invite students home for the holidays and more. Visitors are welcome as well.
“All are welcome and I do mean all are welcome,” Friar Serrano said. “All belong. You don’t have to be Catholic or be what some say ‘a good Catholic.’ You don’t have to have a good prayer life. We aren’t a bunch of holy rollers. We are sinful people who seek the truth together. And I’m not the one who holds the truth together. We are on this journey together.”
For more information about Catholic Campus Ministry at UTEP, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. They are located at 2230 N. Oregon next door to Kinley's inside the GECU building. The Newman Center at Sul Ross University is located at 306 S. Lackey Street in Alpine.
Support Catholic Campus Ministry with your gift to Progress.