On the weekend, most teens want to hang out with their friends, and 16-year-old Eder Pineda is no different. Except, instead of spending that time at the movies or the mall, he chooses to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Every time we do Adoration, I get closer to him,” said Pineda, confirmation candidate. “I feel that connection again. It motivates me to be a better person.”

Pineda was one of about 50 teens that attended a National Evangelization Teams (NET) retreat at St. Junipero Serra Parish in Phelan [in the Mojave Desert] on March 11. The day-long event included skits, games and small group discussions to help teens encounter Christ and grow in their faith.

NET, based in Minnesota, currently has missionaries traveling through our diocese with plans to offer 15 different retreats here this year. With Bibles and props in tow, the group of eight offers different retreat themes like “Love One Another,” which is about friendship, and “Sealed & Sent,” which is about Confirmation…. Ernestina Zilius, St. Junipero Serra’s Confirmation and Youth Minister Coordinator, chose “True Presence.”

“[The youth] have questions … They say, ‘We take the Eucharist, we come to church but we don’t know what’s going on,’” explained Zilius. “So we picked the Eucharist theme … so they can start comprehending what it means … I hope this encourages them to want to continue that relationship with our Father.”

Part of the day’s lineup included the missionaries acting out a “drama” that takes place in a confessional. The “priest” reminds the repentant how Jesus died to save her from sin. 17-year-old Miguel Salmon said that part of the retreat will stick with him the most….

22-year-old NET Missionary Luke Klavins gave his testimony before the group at St. Junipero Serra. After growing up with an abusive stepfather, experimenting with drugs and generally feeling like an outcast, he decided to make a change.

“My home life wasn’t super easy. I was bullied and very lonely,” said Klavins. “[During Adoration] I decided to look straight into the Eucharist and I really felt like he was looking at me too … God is happy that I’m here.”

As they travel, the missionaries live with host families which is considered part of the evangelization they are tasked with. Diana Martinez, Religious Education Coordinator at St. Junipero Serra and mother of three, had a full house hosting the eight missionaries plus two supervisors. Initially, her kids were not so sure about the arrangement….

“We had a Mass afterwards and I noticed [the teens] were very reverent, very good. They participated,” said Martha Padilla-Thomas, Youth, Young Adult and Confirmation Coordinator. “Also after the retreat, in small group sharing, they tend to open up more.”

Some 70 NET missionaries have come from the Diocese of San Bernardino, and they are in need of more, particularly men. Interested young adults can go to netusa.org for more information….

Original story on Inland Catholic Byte.