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2019 High School Vocations Essay Contest Winners

Originally Appeared in : 9911-5/23/19

Question posed to 11th grade students throughout the Diocese of Savannah: “How have the lives of the Georgia Martyrs inspired you to go on mission to spread the Catholic Faith to others in our Diocese of Savannah - as a priest, religious or lay person?”

 

Maggie Espiritu
First Place - $750
St. Anne-Pacelli School, Columbus

 

When learning about the story of the Georgia Martyrs for the first time, I was in complete awe of the brave and valiant actions that first spread Catholicism to the state of Georgia where I live today. In my hometown of Columbus, where just 4.6% of the population is Catholic, these martyrs serve as an inspiration to the vigor which I can aspire to reach when spreading the Catholic message in my community. Although I do not yet know the specifics of the vocation God is calling me to, I can be sure that finding inspiration through the Georgia Martyrs is a definite part of his plan.

 

One of the first things that really struck me about the Franciscan martyrs was the humility with which they entered their evangelization. The image of them walking barefoot and clad in simple robes to meet the strong, war-like natives creates such a powerful image that contradicts the negative connotation that history sometimes construes of the expansion of the Catholic Church. These men did not come to force any unwanted religion upon those who did not want to listen, but rather they carried God’s message to those who had never had the opportunity to learn of Jesus. The aspect of humility found in the martyrs especially inspires me as a teenager because it shows me that I do not have to wait for a lofty position in the world to be powerful. The Gospel is rich enough for me to share with others, and in that people will find my true worth.

 

Another trait that the Franciscans so embodied was the ability to take on what others could not accomplish. I learned that they were not the first Catholic mission sent to this part of the United States, but rather it was the Jesuits who first landed among the unfamiliar civilizations. After some time in working there, the Jesuits were found to be unsuccessful in their evangelization efforts, and that was where the Franciscans came to their aid. This small detail of how the message was spread to Georgia shows me how not every person will be equipped for the job that God calls us to, but there will always be someone who can step in and help. Just as the missions so many years ago were imperfect and took much hard work to successfully cultivate, the mission that I wish to grow in my life must be a constant work in progress as well.

 

The final thing that I gathered from the lives of the Georgia Martyrs— and perhaps the thing that has impacted me most— is the realization that the issues they fought and died for are the issues still relevant in society today. Fighting for the sanctity of marriage as an important tenet of the Catholic Church remains crucial in the world that I face everyday. In addition, the way that the Franciscans taught and lived their faith— all the while staying out of controlling politics and trivial human matters— persists as an integral part of sustaining God’s message today. In a world where my culture bombards me with materialism and wealth and societal acceptance as the main goal, staying adamant about the Gospel is one of the only ways to work towards a life that not only includes but surrounds Jesus. The Georgia Martyrs inspired me to focus on the issues that will truly prevail unto heaven.

 

From the humility of the bare-footed martyrs to their readiness to serve, to their efforts in fighting issues that would stand even the test of time, the acts of the Georgia Martyrs single-handedly represent what I feel called to do as a Catholic and able messenger of God’s word. It cannot be ignored that after doing such valuable work their lives ended on account of their faith, truly speaking to the valor with which they protected Jesus’ life above their own. As hard as it is to accept at 17 years old, the Georgia Martyrs ultimately showed me that to live fully is to live without regard to one’s own life. My future plans and desires for growing up should ultimately pale in comparison to the desire with which I want to share God’s love with others. This dramatic life-and-death idea so contrary to selfish human nature will stay with me for as long as I live. All because of the story of the Georgia Martyrs, I have the inspiration that one day, in whatever plan God reveals to me, I should strive to spread God’s message to all, living for my faith rather than myself.

 

Sheridan Lynch
Second Place - $500
St. Vincent’s Academy, Savannah

 

Faith defines us as who we are and what we stand for. As citizens of the United States, we are free to choose our religion without persecution or oppression. Four hundred years ago, the idea of religious freedom was not accepted in this land. In the late 1500s, five Spanish Franciscans came to Georgia to spread the Good News to the native people. I was first introduced to the Georgia Martyrs through this essay contest. I was never aware of  or realized the impact they had on spreading the Catholic faith. They had complete faith and trust in the Lord to lead them on their journeys. Without the strength and compassion of these martyred men, the Christian faith and values would not have been spread to the Western world in the late 16th century.

 

The Georgia Martyrs made sacrifices on every step along their journey. The journey of the Franciscans was a winding, confusing, and difficult endeavor in the name and glory of God. The Franciscan evangelists showed no fear in any part of their journey. From the beginning they said yes. Yes, to spread the word of God to the New World, to new people. They showed the courage and commitment I strive to have in my everyday life. Everywhere I go, opposition comes to my faith and my values. The mental strength and determination these men had to defend their faith at all costs is extremely encouraging in my life. The most inspirational and relatable story about standing up for one's faith was about Fray Pedro de Corpa. Pedro de Corpa loved the Guale and showed strong paternal compassion towards them. But this love did not exceed his love of God and his teachings. Pedro de Corpa reprimanded the Guale prince, Juanillo, for his polygamic lifestyle. He courageously defended his faith even against a powerful and influential leader of the native people. The strength to stand up for my faith is one struggle I find almost daily. Surrounded by like-minded people in a Catholic school, opposition on issues of my faith are not encountered often.

 

Outside of school events, however, choices and situations contrary to the Catholic faith often come up. People treat others with lack of respect or they discuss actions such as abortion or relations before marriage. During situations like these, it is hard to go against the majority and speak out about what is right. Many times, I do not stand up for my faith like the martyrs did. I cannot seem to find the words to express the way I feel in these situations. The Georgia Martyrs' lives have helped to alter my weakness to speak out. I realize the truth must be told no matter the expense because ultimately God will reward us. The martyrs believed this through and through. Their strength to stand up for their beliefs has influenced me to do the same from here on out. A value is easy to follow when it is backed up by the majority of people. It is not nearly as easy to follow when you are the only one who believes in it.

 

Often in one's faith, you must give something up to gain a better understanding. Possessions, idols, and money all can stand in the way of us gaining true happiness with the Lord. The Franciscan men gave up everything besides the clothes on their backs to come over and spread the Good News of Christ. The act of giving up your possessions and finding the Lord must be a truly magical experience. During the summer when I participate in Prayer and Action, I truly find myself with God. Giving up your phone, bed, and outside connections enables me to bond with God unlike ever before. Seeing these men, who gave up everything and made such a large and meaningful impact in the world, make what I do at Prayer and Action more relevant. It shows that sacrifice of oneself can mean so much when done in the Lord's name.

 

A martyr is a person who suffers death voluntarily as a punishment for witnessing to a faith or value. Catholic martyrs are an inspiration to me in every way. They are willing to die for the faith just as Jesus did. The martyrs of Georgia took up their own crosses, without fear of the possible outcomes, and sacrificed their lives in the name of God. These five men show me how strong my faith can be, and how I should live it and share it with everyone around me.

 

Elizabeth Horn,
Third Place - $250
St. Vincent’s Academy, Savannah

 

Mother Teresa once said, "Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are." The Georgia Martyrs exemplify exactly that. They are remarkable people who stood up for their Catholic faith and made the decision to devote their lives entirely to God. They took a risk by traveling from their Spanish backgrounds to the New World. In the 1500s, sailing from Spain to the New World was extremely dangerous; some did not survive. They were not hesitant in traveling to unknown land because they had great trust in God. They went to places such as St. Augustine, Florida, where people already had their own religious practices. They preached the Gospel and sought to spread Catholicism. Most importantly, they were willing to lose their own lives for the Word of God to be heard.

 

The Georgia Martyrs inspired me to become more involved in my Christian faith. Service to the poor in my diocese helps spread the Word of God. I help spread the Word of God through my actions and my treatment towards other people around me. By showing good sportsmanship in sports and respecting my competitors as people of God, I hope to exemplify good behavior and show what it means to be respectful of everyone. Prayer helps bring me closer in my relationship with God by listening to what he is calling me to do. The laity play an important part of the mission of the Church. They can bring the love of God to all people. The laity can affect social attitudes in the places they work that touches lives and changes hearts.

 

A personal experience I will never forget was volunteering for U time at Monkey Joe’s. Parents drop their kids with special needs off at Monkey Joe's, and it's a break for the parents. Us volunteers play with the kids. The smile on their faces and the amount of joy they have when they walk in really touches me. It is their absolute favorite part of the week. Seeing someone else happy makes me happy. I've always enjoyed giving to other people because it makes me feel good to give to others. I do not volunteer because I have to; I do it because it's something God would want me to do and is something that is a morally good deed. Service to the community praises God and his creation and brings individuals closer together.

 

I had not heard of the Georgia Martyrs prior to this essay. It is evident after reading about them that these five martyrs have been inspirational figures to people including myself. I have never had the most outgoing personality. However, after reading the story of these five brave men, it taught me to not hold back and to not be afraid to preach about what you love to do.

 

These friars never stopped spreading their faith or lost the courage to do so. I admire them for their continued perseverance and integrity. Although they tried to convert natives to Catholicism, some of the native people were resistant. The impact of their duties hit everyone, including myself as a Methodist. They showed me that you can never give up doing what you’re passionate about, and I learned that courage and bravery can have a lasting impact, as it did on them.

 

The magnificent story of these martyrs took place nearly 400 years ago. It is still talked about to this day because of how determined, open minded, and selfless these men were concerning their Catholic pride and faith. They have inspired me to stay strong and rooted in my faith for, "Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe," as St. Augustine once said. The Georgia Martyrs were rewarded for their faith and people around the world respect them for that. Even though they were murdered, they will be long remembered 400 years from now as well.

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