Missionaries bring message of love to St. Cloud area priests

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Like many tales of intrigue, the story of two women missionaries on a quest to bring a message of God’s love to the priests of the Diocese of St. Cloud began on a dark and stormy night.

Two strangers — to the area and mostly to each other — found themselves at a bus station on the edge of an unfamiliar city. Desperate to find lodging and shelter from the mounting storm, the two women who had known each other less than a day made their way to the closest emergency shelter.
Bad news. It was full.

A woman — believed to be homeless herself but who had a car — recognized their plight and offered them a ride to another shelter, Place of Hope Ministries, near downtown St. Cloud. There, the pair was welcomed with a warm meal and a dry bed for the night.

When the first signs of morning came, with the storm over, the women rose with renewed spirits, ready to face what they came to St. Cloud to do.

“We are coming with a two-fold message,” said Annette Waymel, a wife and mother of eight from Englewood, Colo. “To prepare the way for the Holy Father’s visit in September but also to go to the priests and announce a word of salvation to them. They are always giving a word of salvation to the people, but how often do they receive the message simply that God loves them?”

The two women are catechists of the Neocatechumenal Way, an “instrument in the parishes at the service of the bishop to return to faith many of those who abandoned it,” according to its website.

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Sarah Rosario and Annette Waymel stop to visit St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud July 16. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

It was started in the slums of Madrid, Spain, by two lay people named Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez. Arguello, a famous painter, was experiencing what Waymel termed an “existential crisis” and went looking for God among the poor.

Today, the Neocatechumenal Way, which was approved by the church in 2008, has a presence in more than 900 dioceses in 105 nations, with more than 20,000 communities in 6,000 parishes.

On July 16, Waymel and her travel companion, Sarah Rosario, a 19-year-old psychology and education student at the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York, were among a group of around 800 men and women of “the Way” who gathered in Newark, N.J., for what is called a “convivence.”

There they discussed their mission and at about 3 a.m. on Sunday, July 19, each of the 800 received a bus ticket to either JFK International Airport or LaGuardia Airport, were assigned a partner and handed a plane ticket to a random diocese — all drawn by lottery. Rosario and Waymel, who had never met, were assigned to the Diocese of St. Cloud. They flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul and were given enough money to buy a one-way bus ticket to St. Cloud.

“By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to go out and spread the Gospel,” Waymel said. “To deliver with feet. Everything now is sent in email or text, but when someone puts their life on a plane and then on a bus for a week in the precariousness of God, it really is a special delivery.”

With only backpacks containing a change of clothes and some personal items — no money, no cell phones — Waymel and Rosario made their way to as many local parishes as they could in one week, relying solely on the generosity of strangers and their own two feet. They encountered several area priests and met with Bishop Donald Kettler.

Those they met had various reactions, Rosario said. Some were taken aback by the way they came with nothing.

“Sometimes it takes something out of the ordinary so that people can hear the Word of God,” she said. “Two women coming with nothing, well, people sometimes think we are crazy. Sometimes I think we are crazy but at the same time, it is what we feel called to do.”

By the time they came upon Father Tony Oelrich at the noon Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral the following Thursday, he had already caught wind of their visit from other priests.

“I was happy to see them,” he said. “They were very gracious and very gentle. Their only agenda was that they came to tell priests how much Jesus loved us all. And they did this in a very Gospel way, going out two by two, bringing Christ’s message of love.”

Meeting the priests and people of the Diocese of St. Cloud was a gift for Waymel and Rosario, too.

“We feel that we have experienced Christ at our side, Christ within us to do this,” Waymel said. “Christ had an itinerary for us, he had a plan for us and we are just following him. Each place, each person is a Eucharist for us. He has been present in all those who received us.”