Emmaus Institute: Forming leaders, forging disciples

After only two years — one of them during a pandemic — the Emmaus Institute is already making a difference in parish communities.

Julio Cesar Tena Soria meets with a small group at St. Andrew Parish in Elk River.

Launched in fall 2019, the Emmaus Institute is a four-year intellectual and ministerial formation program for lay leadership ministry and potential Latino/Hispanic diaconal candidates from the Diocese of St. Cloud.

Working in partnership with St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, its purpose is to create well-formed ministers who will serve the mission of the Gospel in their families, parishes and wider communities throughout the diocese.

Martina Talic has been teaching at the institute for two years. She also teaches Spanish to high school students at St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville.

“I love the idea that I can combine Spanish and theology together and teach a different population — adults,” Talic said. “Teaching adolescents and adults is quite different. Teaching adults is more like sharing with them. They have so much experience, I end up learning from them.”

At the Emmaus Institute, Talic taught “Ministry on the Margins” as well as a communication skills class. This year, she is teaching a course on “Charisms and Small Christian Communities.”

“The idea of small Christian communities is to create a community similar to those in early Christianity,” she explained. “The community with the members know each other well and support each other. The members pray together, praise God and share their life experiences.”

Part of the curriculum was for students to form small groups in parishes and experiment with various learning and sharing experiences.

Alejandra and Mario Mancilla, parishioners at St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids, attend the Emmaus Institute.

Alejandra Mancilla, who is finishing her second year as an Emmaus student, created a small group in her parish, St. Leonard in Pelican Rapids.

“My project involves meeting with women, young and not so young, that come from different walks of life,” she said. “We have to meet once a week for six weeks and try to spend time together outside of Mass and to get to know each other, walk with each other in our daily lives.”

She said what inspires her is that even with all the things going on in people’s lives, especially this past year, the women have persevered in their faith and witness to God’s love.

“My greatest hope is that all those that come to these sessions are able to take with them that God is with us always, even in our messy lives. He wants us to come to him with everyday struggles and joys.”

Alejandra’s husband, Mario, also attends the institute and is pursuing the permanent diaconate.

“At first, I wanted to continue my education with the institute because of the role my husband and I have in our parish community,” Alejandra said. “We work together with the Spanish community and I wanted to prepare myself better to serve better. But with my husband pursuing the vocation of deacon, now I have added to that so I can grow with him and understand him better if he indeed becomes a deacon.”

Most of all, she loves learning from the other students as well as the professors.

“I have learned that we are so hungry for companionship, hungry for having someone to walk with us and to be there for us in those difficult and happy moments and that will not judge us when we mess up,” she said.

The Emmaus Institute is a four-year intellectual and ministerial formation program for lay leadership ministry and potential Latino/Hispanic diaconal candidates from the Diocese of St. Cloud. This class was taught by Julio Cesar Tena Soria.

Another Emmaus student, Julio Tena, created a small group in his parish of St. Andrew in Elk River. His group was focused on people from his community who are already serving or have the desire to serve in the parish. About 10 people between the ages of 20 and 50 years old attended.

“The idea is to discern the call that God makes to us, because we all have something to give to others by being disciples of our Lord Jesus,” he said.

The group met for six weeks.

“In those weeks, a very great union grew between the group. Trust, confidentiality and a lot of respect. I think that inspires anyone to feel good in a group,” he said .

Although Julio’s group primarily spoke Spanish, an English-speaking person attended the group with his wife.

“He came with the desire to learn more about God and learn Spanish at the same time,” Julio said. “It was a very nice experience. Because the Holy Spirit worked a lot in him, he did not miss out on what was being spoken and learned,” Julio said.

Julio started attending Emmaus because he wanted to know more about God and also to grow in his faith, which he has, but has found even more.

“My greatest hope is that all those that come to these sessions are able to take with them that God is with us always, even in our messy lives. He wants us to come to him with everyday struggles and joys.”

“The best thing is meeting many more people like me from our diocese who share the same desire to know more about our faith and who in some way, like me, are putting into practice everything we learn in our communities,” he said.

Mostly, he just wants to lead people to the Lord.

“My greatest hope is to be an instrument of God and, in this way, the Elk River community can have an encounter with our Lord Jesus because it is what I desire with all my heart,” he said. “I believe and trust 100 percent that God will do the rest.”

Although the students had good experiences with their courses, Talic said COVID presented an additional challenge.

“Most students did really well with this project and enjoyed it. Some struggled with getting a group together, especially during the times when gathering is highly discouraged. Most of the course has been taught online via Zoom. Even though most of us would prefer to be in person, this way of learning worked really well for the participants,” she said.

The best part, she said, was that people responded.

“Some participants decided to keep the weekly group meetings going even though they have already completed the requirements for the course,” Talic said. “This shows our human need to stay connected with one another.”

Emmaus Institute is now accepting applications. For more information, visit https://stcdio.org/emmaus-institute/. The institute has two upcoming open houses scheduled via Zoom on May 6 (English) and June 8 (Spanish). For more information, visit https://bit.ly/3dkYDJk.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the associate editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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