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'Their view of the world is so beautiful'.

Although she is only 20, Diana Oliva is an old hand at teaching catechism classes at St. Hyacinth, a large Hispanic parish on Milwaukee's south side.

"My mom jokes that I've spent my whole life in catechism classes because I kept wanting to go after I made first Communion," Oliva said. "When I was in the confirmation program, I felt the call to serve as a catechist. I felt it was the right way for me to live my faith and I've been doing it ever since."

This is her fourth year teaching Saturday classes at the parish. She admits she was initially nervous about this year's class: nine boys, ages 11 to 16. No need for the jitters--the boys are attentive and respectful, almost always showing up on time. She teaches the class mostly in Spanish, the language she and most of the boys speak at home, but flows into English when needed.

Jovani Guerrero, a tall seventh-grader, is more comfortable speaking English. He says he comes to the class because he wants to learn more about Jesus and God but he's not certain exactly what he believes. The day an NCR reporter visited, the class learned about the Annunciation, or as Guerrero put the message: "God helps us in the tough moments. He's always there for us."

A junior at Cardinal Stritch University, Oliva is majoring in secondary education with a minor in religious studies. Her volunteerism doesn't end with her catechism class, said Breanna Mekuly, the university minister who nominated Oliva, her student assistant, for recognition.

"She is the definition of what being a minister is all about," said Mekuly "She preaches, leads small groups and plans retreats on campus, and she communicates well with the young people at St. Hyacinth, teaching them to live out their faith in their lives."

Oliva said she learns from teaching catechism. She recalled a lesson last year when she was teaching 9-and 10-year-olds about heaven. She asked what they thought heaven was like, what those in heaven did. The students responded that the job of those in heaven was to take care of other people.

"Their view of the world is so beautiful," Oliva said. "As we grow up, we see all the negativity in the world and these kids remind me of a different way of seeing the world.

"At Stritch, I had to give a homily on the death of St. Francis and what the kids said came back to me: Death is not something to fear, it's a part of life and there is a bigger purpose for us than we may realize," Oliva said.

Oliva also has an internship at St. Matthias, a suburban parish where she helps in the Christian formation office. Right now, she's planning the confirmation retreat.

At Cardinal Stritch, she is working on another volunteer project--forming an interfaith group for the campus.

"It's not about conversion or who's right and who's wrong," she said. "It's about finding common ground. I think it's really important, especially with everything that is going on right now."

Caption: Diana Oliva


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Title Annotation:VOLUNTEERS
Author:Rohde, Marie
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Jan 15, 2016
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