By Steve Mangione

When the province's vocation team converged in southern California last month for the Religious Education Congress hosted by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – one of the largest annual Catholic gatherings of its kind in the U.S. – the friars and staff knew that leaving a lasting impression on the nearly 20,000 participants, would be a challenge. Their competition: 100 other information booths and religious communities in the massive exhibit hall of the Anaheim Convention Center.  

Based on the crush of visitors to the province’s exhibit space, it was mission accomplished – partly due to Franciscan hospitality and creativity in the form of a high-energy and entertaining game show-style Catholic trivia challenge. It was part Jeopardy, part Wheel of Fortune and, at one point during the Feb. 15-18 event, a Family Feud-like showdown between the Franciscans and the Jesuits. (The Jesuits were gracious in defeat, considering the odds were stacked against them with all Franciscan questions.) 

Four men wearing orange sunglasses that have

People who visited the friars' booth received merchandise bearing the province's logo. Here, Br. Basil Valente, Jorge Martins, Jeffery Jordan and Danilo Vargas show off the sunglasses.

A friar welcomes two people to the friars' booth at RE Congress

Visitors to the friars' booth were invited to ask questions of the friars and take part in a trivia game designed by the vocations team.

The vocations team welcomed visitors and spoke with them about the joy of a Franciscan vocation. Pictured here are Greg Plata, Basil Valente, Danilo Vargas, Jeffery Jordan, Henri Djojo, Ryan Thornton and Jorge Martins. 

A friar wearing a brown robe talks with three men in white robes and a priest wearing black clothing and a white collar

Members of other religious communities stopped by to try their hand at Franciscan trivia.  

'People will remember meeting the friars!'

“Our primary goal was to let people know about the Franciscans – our fraternal life, how we serve the poor and marginalized, and about our parish, education and other ministries. A Franciscan vocation is worth discerning and exploring – that was the message. We attracted crowds all day long – and it wasn’t just for the trivia challenge prizes!” said Br. Greg Plata, OFM, national vocation director, who noted that the team ran out of promotional giveaways and stacks of QR Code postcards that encouraged attendees to take a glimpse into friar life on the province’s website and social media channels. 

Added Br. Jeffery Jordan, OFM, eastern region vocation director, “People will remember meeting the friars! We were very Franciscan, just being ourselves – welcoming, joyful and engaging. Vocation ministry encompasses outreach and education – which has greater emphasis as our new province establishes its identity nationally. It was team building for the friars since this was the first opportunity for the entire vocation team to work together in this type of environment.” 

It was also the first public event at which the Franciscans represented their national presence as the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

“It was exciting and momentous to have banners, table coverings, and promotional merchandise – thermoses, sunglasses, pens – reflecting our new province brand,” said Br. Basil Valente, OFM, executive director of the National Vocation Office, who noted the significance of networking with thousands of Catholic school principals and teachers and parish religious education directors and catechists, and 6,500 students and young adults. “We encouraged them to share in their classrooms what they learned about the Franciscans.” 

Sharing the Franciscan experience

Br. Henri Djojo, OFM, and Br. Ryan Thornton, OFM, both western region vocation directors, didn’t have to travel far. “It was a wonderful way to dialogue about the Franciscan way of life and tell people about my own experiences,” said Br. Henri. Jorge Martins, vocations office manager, and Danilo Vargas, video production manager, also in attendance, created the graphics and animation for the trivia challenge, and a video montage of friars in ministry that attracted visitors to the booth. 

"Be Loved!" was the theme of the four-day event, which featured a Youth Day; guest speakers from around the world – including Br. Albert Haase, OFM, a former missionary in China now stationed in retreat ministry in the South-Central U.S.; Eucharistic Liturgies celebrated in three languages; interactive workshops, and social gatherings that included a film showcase and art and multicultural exhibits. 

One of the biggest takeaways, according to Br. Greg, is the importance of reaching young Catholics. As a result, the vocation team is planning to distribute holy cards to thousands of Catholic school students across the country with the image of St. Francis of Assisi and a QR Code that will take them to an animated video on the province website featuring Francis and the full and exciting life of friars in the 21st century.