Monica Palacios, left, Pia Ocenar and Theresa Henry were among the 46 young Catholics who spent five weeks at the Sanctum Retreat Centre learning how to become NET Canada missionaries. Health and safety protocols did not dim the orientation experience. Photo courtesy of NET Canada

NET ministry resumes in COVID landscape

  • October 16, 2020

Young adult missionaries with the National Evangelization Teams (NET) Canada are facing a new pandemic-induced reality this year.

Limitations have been placed on their ministry due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the commitment to spreading the Good News about Christ’s love remains as passionate as ever.

On Oct. 15, 46 young evangelists concluded five weeks of formation training at the Sanctum Retreat Centre in Caroline, Alta. This orientation retreat gives the missionaries, aged 17-30, a deeper understanding of their faith while also arming them with the skills to connect with Grade 6-12 students through talks, testimonies and activities.

The eight-month retreat season that follows contains more unknowns than any annual NET Canada campaign since the organization launched in 1994. Flexibility and nimbleness are required from each NET team of four to eight members as COVID-19 could abruptly sideline classrooms, entire schools and parishes.

Pierre O’Reilly, NET Canada’s executive director since July 2019, says the Lord will light the missionaries’ path during this unprecedented 2020-21 school year.

“People asked us, ‘how did you know you would continue with the year,’ and the answer is ‘we didn’t.’ We just kept going forward, and God keeps opening doors. We just assume and have faith that everything will work out,” said O’Reilly.

NET Canada is minimizing the potential of cancelled events by concentrating its fall retreat slate in Western provinces.

While the number of active cases is trending upward in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, these regions are not embroiled in a second wave of COVID-19 to the same alarming extent as Ontario and Quebec.

According to, each ministry team typically evangelizes in front of 8,700 youth over the course of 125 events staged within a 10-month season, a feat that requires 20,000 kilometres of travel. These numbers won’t be approached as the travel schedule is scaled back this year to safeguard retreat leaders.

Protecting individuals and families billeting the missionaries is another critical consideration. Pre-COVID, O’Reilly says each team typically stayed at three or four host homes in a week, but that won’t be the case this year.

This year’s NET retreat presentation will be starkly different from previous years as each team strives to abide by all health and safety protocols.

“Certainly, a part of a typical NET retreat would be games with the young people, and so we have had to examine what type of physical contact was incorporated,” said O’Reilly. “So, we are trying to adapt and play games where physical touch is not necessary. We also want to have talks with youth in a small-group setting in a safe way. We may use Plexiglas shields, and if not, we’ll wear masks.”

O’Reilly, who resides in Ottawa, was in Caroline himself for two weeks to observe and participate in the formation training activities. The former director of operations and Regina campus director for Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) said the 46 NET missionaries — down slightly from 52 in 2019-20 — are eager to start proclaiming the Gospel.

“I am just blown away by their resilience. I don’t sense any anxiety from any of the team members. They are excited to provide ministry during the midst of the pandemic.”

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