Missionaries announce the Gospel as a family
By Julie Filby
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Denver's Neocatechumenal Way
Marco and Monica Tesei describe themselves as a normal couple. They’ve been married 18 years; have three children—age 16, 14 and 11; and live in a peaceful family neighborhood in southeast Denver.
What’s unique about their family is that five years ago they unanimously agreed to leave their lifelong home of Rome, Italy, to serve the Archdiocese of Denver as a missionary family.
“When you experience missionary work, you become closer to the Lord,” said Monica. “It’s a way to meet him strongly.”
History of mission families
Over the last 30 years hundreds of missionary families from the Vatican-approved Neocatechumenal Way, a parish-based catechumenate (faith formation), have been sent by the Holy Father all over the world to be a Christian presence by living a life of service, simplicity and poverty.
In 1988 Pope John Paul II started a tradition of blessing such families and their mission to evangelize when he celebrated Mass with 100 families of the Neocatechumenal Way in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, and sent them across the globe.
Precedents for this evangelical mission can be found in the early Church: the New Testament tells of the family of Aquila and Priscilla who collaborated with St. Paul in his evangelization efforts; during the evangelization ministry of the Benedictines in the Middle Ages, monks were accompanied by groups of Christian families; and in this nation, Franciscan Father Junipero Serra’s California missions included Christian families who helped the priests.
According to Rose Mary McLeod, who with husband Don is responsible for the Neocatechumenal Way in Colorado, there were about 300 missionary families sent worldwide last year—and 250-300 more are expected this year.
“Mission families are going ‘like crazy,’” she said. “There are a lot of requests (from bishops).”
There are currently four families serving in the Denver Archdiocese: two from Italy and two from Spain. The Tesei’s are assigned to Denver’s Redemptoris Mater Archdiocesan Missionary Seminary; and the others to St. James Parish in Denver, St. John the Baptist in Johnstown and St. Theresa in Frederick.
Conversely, three Colorado families recently left the state to serve Alaska, Taiwan and Australia.
Missionary families are sent to “announce the Gospel” and how that’s accomplished varies. In addition to volunteer positions in parishes, seminaries and Catholic schools; the families assist with marriage preparation, catechesis, religious education and even labor such as janitorial work when necessary.
“They do whatever is needed; they’re there to serve,” McLeod said.
Marco, an experienced accountant in Italy; and Monica, a former international flight attendant, volunteer to help the seminary and Marco is helping the administration.
“I’m happy to give my help to the seminary because it’s where priests are formed to do this mission,” Monica said.
The Tesei’s, parishioners of St. Thomas More in Centennial, also conduct marriage preparation in English and Spanish at various parishes, assist at the seminary’s vocational center and present catechesis at parishes.
A new home
In describing their call to serve as a mission family, Marco said, “It happened very fast.”
In late 2004, Marco and Monica first recognized the call. In May 2005 they attended a retreat in Porto San Giorgio. In January 2006 the family received a missionary crucifix and an apostolic blessing for their journey from Pope Benedict XVI. The following June they said good-bye to family and friends, leaving what they called a “very beautiful life in Rome.”
“We left good jobs, our families, good schools—it was difficult, but that’s part of it,” Monica said. “We saw that the Lord is faithful. The Bible says ‘you will find a hundredfold if you leave something good for the Lord’ and that was true for us.”
“We had a beautiful welcome here,” she added, “people are very generous.”
They visit Italy when they can, during the summer or at Christmas. Mission families often live in their assigned diocese for many years or even permanently.
“They go forever, theoretically,” McLeod said. “Sometimes they go back home, but for the most part they stay. They become acclimated to the culture, climate, language, everything.”
When asked if Denver would be their permanent home the couple said they “are open to the will of God.”
“You can’t plan your life, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Monica said. “We are in the hands of the Lord, as everyone is.
“We love Denver and are very happy,” she said. “The Lord has been faithful, and we are grateful.”