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Donelle Poling speaks with Sandy Garcia and Rocio Meza-Barajas during a course at the Emmaus Institute. Photo by Paul Middlestaedt

The following excerpt was written by Mary L. Parks and published Nov. 29, 2023 in The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine of the Diocese of St. Cloud. The BIG IDEA was sponsored with funding from Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission.

New Emmaus course emphasizes accompaniment in formation of youth

When Rocio Meza-Barajas first heard about Emmaus Institute during a Bible study, she thought, “Four years is a long time.” But after making the commitment to attend, she never regretted it.

“It is amazing what you find out,” Meza-Barajas said. “You dig and dig and don’t want it to end. One question would get answered and another would pop up.” The Emmaus Institute is an intellectual and ministerial formation program for lay ministers and potential Latino/Hispanic diaconal candidates from the Diocese of St. Cloud, in partnership with Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary. Students attend one Saturday a month, September through May, for four years, and the program provides courses in English and Spanish.

Meza-Barajas, who serves as a greeter and usher at her parish of St. Andrew in Elk River, said her favorite class at the Institute was Christology, the study of Jesus Christ. “You realize you don’t know him like you think. We don’t know him until we spend time with him,” she said.

When her four years at the Emmaus Institute were over, Meza-Barajas just wanted to keep going. According to Kristi Bivens, director of lay leadership formation for the diocese, other graduates of the Institute feel the same way.

“They are always asking ‘What’s next?’” Bivens said.

While Meza-Barajas and her classmates were finishing up at the Emmaus Institute, Mayuli Bales, director of Multicultural Ministries, was noticing a need for more youth programming in the diocese.

According to Bales, this need is particularly strong within the Hispanic community, where youth are bicultural. “They are growing up in two different worlds and their families are changing as a result. It has a social impact,” Bales said.

Read the full article online . . .

Learn More about this Project

To learn more about Foundations for Youth Ministry or the Emmaus Institute, contact Kristi Bivens, associate director for Lay Leadership Formation, at 320-258-7642 or at

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What’s Your Big Idea?

The Bridge-Builders for a Thriving Mission Initiative provides up to $2,000 for approved big ideas that support thriving communities.

In Scripture, the Rule of St. Benedict, and in the practice of spiritual direction, we are taught to watch for the fruit of the Spirit. What does that fruit look like in real life? What difference does the practice of seeking the Spirit make for us and for the world? Sr. Josue Behnen OSB, spiritual director and supervisor, shares her perspective on these questions after a lifetime of practice.


  • Discerning the Spirit

  • What do we look for?

  • Sitting at the Feet of Jesus

  • Contemplative Way of Being

  • Paying Attention to the Divine

  • Why is supervision important?

  • Slow, Silent, Uncertain

  • Homesick for the Kingdom of God

  • Becoming More Patient and Kind

Training for Lay Pastoral Caregivers

Community of Hope International Logo

Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission trains lay pastoral caregivers in the art of listening. The training consists of two overnight retreats and four Zoom meetings. If the kind of listening that Sr. Josue describes seems compelling to you, we would welcome an exploratory conversation.

by Barbara Sutton, Director of Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission

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Try this brief guided reflection (in English and Spanish) to warm up to the day with a thankful heart.

Guided Meditation

Imagine you are waking up this morning. Give yourself a nice stretch. Gently close your eyes making sure your eyelids are only slightly touching each other.

Now think about the first person in your life who you know cares about you or is making the world a better place. Recall this person’s face. Think about one way this person has touched your life and then send this person your silent gratitude for being in your life.

Now think about the second person. Go back to your first memory of this person. Then send your silent gratitude.

Third person, look into the eyes of this person and notice the colors of their eyes. Send them silent gratitude.

Fourth person, imagine this person is very happy with you right now. Send them silent gratitude.

Go back inside and look at yourself when you were eight years old. Recall your hairstyle at that time. Then send a warm hello to your eight-year-old self.

Think about someone far away that you loved. Give that person a virtual hug. And then send a silent gratitude to that person.

When you are ready, open your eyes. Give yourself a nice stretch again and hope you have a wonderful day.

Práctica de gratitud matutina

Imagínese a usted mismo despertando esta mañana. Estire su cuerpo. Cierre suavemente los ojos asegurándose de que sus párpados se toquen ligeramente entre sí.

Ahora piensa en una persona en su vida que usted sabe que se preocupa por usted o que está haciendo del mundo un lugar mejor. Recuerde el rostro de esta persona. Piensa en una forma en que esta persona ha tocado su vida y luego envíe a esta persona su gratitud en silencio por su presencia en su vida.

Ahora piensa en una segunda persona. Recuerde su primer recuerdo con esta persona. En silencio envíe su gratitud a esta persona.

Tercera persona, mire hacia los ojos de esta persona y observe el color de sus ojos. En silencio envíe su gratitud a esta persona.

Cuarta persona, imagine que esta persona se encuentre muy feliz con usted en este momento. En silencio envíe su gratitud a esta persona.

Ahora vuelva hacia adentro y mírese a usted mismo con ocho años de edad, su niñez. Recuerde su peinado en esa etapa de su vida. En silencio y con cariño saluda a usted mismo con ocho años de edad.

Piense en alguien lejano a quién usted ama. Dele a esta persona un abrazo virtual. Y luego en silencio envíe su gratitud a esta persona.

Cuando esté listo, abra los ojos. Vuelva a estirar su cuerpo y espero que tenga un día maravilloso.

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