Anna Grosch (seated, far right) and Angel Rejon Merino (seated, front on right) with Archdiocese of Milwaukee staff and other pilgrims during their mission trip to Colombia in May. (Submitted photo)

Among this year’s world outreach efforts to come out of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, 10 local parishioners offered a week of their time to assist those in need in a Catholic community in Colombia.

The Office for World Mission, a ministry that assists those seeking mission opportunities locally and around the world through the diocese, sponsored a trip for pilgrims to travel to the Parroquia La Resurrección in Bogotá, Colombia, from May 22-30.

Anna Grosch and Angel Rejon Merino, both parishioners at Holy Apostles Parish in New Berlin, were among the 10 to join the trip, but this did not mark the first time they’ve donated their time to mission efforts. Grosch was involved with helping start the international ministry group at her parish alongside her father and several other parishioners and has joined “a lot” of similar trips, often twice a year since 2011.

“I am very interested in mission work abroad and locally —what we can do to serve others in treating our brothers and sisters with love, respect and in solidarity,” Grosch said. “We have a close family friend who is a Franciscan sister who at the time was working and carrying out her faith and mission in Guatemala. We decided to go down and help, and it was a transformative experience. My father, a few parishioner friends and I traveled to Guatemala in 2011. Since then, I’ve wanted to do that work regularly.”

“We came home and felt inspired to start an international ministry that has evolved over time. I was there when it formed, and I was part of the small groups that they spoke with to get this going. And from there, the first official international ministry trip of Holy Apostles was to La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic in 2013.”

Grosch and Rejon Merino’s most recent trip to Colombia as a group visited through the Community of Saint Paul, a nonprofit based in the archdiocese that offers assistance for those in need, including women empowerment programs, people dealing with addiction and substance abuse, homelessness, youth formation groups, faith formation, and local cultural events in multiple countries including Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia. This marks their second time visiting Colombia.

The most recent trip focused on cultural immersion, encounter and engagement with the people of Bogotá, working with the local women’s center, youth programs, and passing out tea and bread to the homeless — using it as an opportunity to connect to people in the neighborhood and countryside surrounding the local parish.

“It was really nice. We stayed with Fr. Martí Colom and Fr. Michael Wolfe, members of the Community of Saint Paul, and became part of their family and experienced their church rituals and how they go about becoming part of the community. The people we stayed with are very involved with local church life. They were so welcoming in their hospitality,” Rejon Merino said.

Grosch and Rejon Merino both find these trips to be humbling and spiritually powerful experiences. They spent a great deal of the trip interacting with a core group of young adults in the parish who have dedicated their lives to serving their community, teaching spiritual and cultural lessons to other young people. The experience drives them to take that passion home with them to Wisconsin, motivating them to think about the things that they can do in their own neighborhood and parish to reach out to those in need.

“Seeing how that group is so close to each other and giving of themselves to reach out to those around them is really moving. And also, how deep a faith the two individuals we stayed with had. It was really moving to see how deeply they believed, and how much adversity they’ve overcome in their lives,” Grosch said.

“I enjoy how the ministries and relationships you build, meeting new people and their experiences and how they live their lives — noting how people from different places often live very similar lives to us,” Rejon Merino said. “It helps me re-center myself. In life, it is easy to get stuck in your own ways, being wasteful and materialistic. Being in other places helps me remember there is more to life than things. You can live differently and still be happy, with a fulfilling spiritual and personal life.”

The day before the group returned home, they attended Sunday Mass at La Resurrección. The parishioners surprised the pilgrims with a touching performance. They concluded the Mass with a traditional dance performance down the aisles of the church and presented them with small gifts in gratitude for traveling there to serve them. The Mass was also streamed online for parents and family to see the impact they made in the community.

“They hid it from us, but it was extremely touching to know they cared that we came. It meant as much to them as it meant to us,” Grosch said.

Rejon Merino and Grosch’s work with the Mission Office is nowhere near done — Grosch and her mother are also set to visit Ghana in West Africa this month, marking the second time she’s visited that country, following a similar mission trip in 2021 with Rejon Merino.