Vincent, 23, San Diego

I come from San Diego in California and in late March of last year I randomly Google-searched “How to Become a Catholic Missionary”. I hadn’t thought it through but I knew that I had always wanted to do some kind of missionary work, and I hoped I would one day be able to go to a place like Africa or South America. On this particular night, all I had wanted to do was to read some stories of missionaries and how they came to be a volunteer in some exotic place overseas, something to inspire me and to motivate me to one day to follow my dream to become a missionary. I had no idea at the time that this late-night Google search would eventually end up in me moving from California to Northern England in a place I had never heard of before. After typing “How to Become a Catholic Missionary” into Google, I clicked on the first website at the top of the page and browsed through it. It looked quite confusing but as I was browsing the page all the way at the bottom there was this little link that said something like “Volunteers needed in the UK”. So I clicked on that link which took me to this other which listed voluntary positions. Immediately I thought “This is all too good to be true.” Then I found something that really appealed to me (as if living in the UK didn’t already
appeal to me) and it was for a youth worker, doing retreat work in this place called “Castlerigg Manor”. That night I applied to be a Gap Year Volunteer (something I had never even heard of before because the term doesn’t exist in America) for the Youth Service. At this stage I still thought it was all too good to be true, and nothing would come of it. I thought I would be lucky if I got an email back, but at least I had actually applied for something.Two days later I got an email back saying that I would be considered, and after a long process and what seemed like years, I received an email saying that I had been accepted to join the team at Castlerigg Manor. I couldn’t have been more thrilled: this was everything and more I had ever hoped for. England had always been the country I had wanted to visit most in the world; never in a million years did I think I would be able to live there for a year, and better still,with other young Catholics. After 2 months of money and visa issues miraculously falling into place perfectly, I was on a plane to Manchester with all my (Californian) winter clothes for the year.
I have now been here for nine months and I still have moments when I can’t believe I’m here, living my dream. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I don’t think this was my doing at all. God totally brought me here. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the whole experience, first by being in this beautiful country, but also by all the people I’ve met and the many friends I’ve made. I’ve been really surprised and humbled by the faith that the people of Lancaster Diocese have. In America it’s very rare that you hear about the Catholic Church in England. I always thought that the Church in England was very quiet and almost insignificant. That sounds ridiculous to me now as I have had the opportunity to meet so many Catholics on fire, and especially such a large number of young people. It has been something really beautiful to witness. It seems to me that the young Catholics in England have a stronger faith, and a more confident faith than the young Catholics that I know in America. The sense of community that the young Catholics have over here is something that I have never experienced before, almost like a special jewel that you don’t come across very often. I feel so blessed to have seen all this, and be involved in it, and I don’t think my desire to be a missionary means that I have to be in a place like South America or Africa. Rather God has called me to do His work here in Lancaster Diocese by working with young people every day and inviting them into this fruit-filled community that the young people of the Lancaster Diocese have created. This year has been a real blessing for me. I have grown so much in my faith and my independence. I thank God for this experience and wouldn’t want it any other way. I will remember this special year for the rest of my life and will take so much knowledge, joy, and confidence back home to California with me to try and build up something of what I have experienced here in
England for the young people in my home diocese.