Share this story

 | By Fred Afflerbach | Correspondent

Blossoming Faith Leads to National Opportunities for Austin Teens

Two remarkable young members of St. Albert the Great Parish in Austin have followed different paths in their faith journey, yet both are leading lives of ministry and devotion to their Catholic faith.

Gerardo Ortiz grew up in a large Catholic family. Jose Gonzalez converted to Catholicism about three years ago, after returning from a family retreat. Although the young men, both 17, come from disparate backgrounds, they have found a commonality in volunteering at St. Albert.

Because of their roles as youth group leaders and their eagerness to volunteer for various ministries, Ortiz and Gonzalez were selected to serve on the youth advisory board of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry. The NFCYM is a Washington, D.C.-based organization committed to supporting and strengthening young people on their path to find Jesus Christ.

For the last several years, Frank Ledesma, the director of religious education and youth at St. Albert the Great Parish in Austin, has witnessed the young men’s devotion to their Catholic faith blossom, which is why he nominated both men for the advisory board.

“I see who is growing in their faith, who is flourishing in the youth group, who I think is a good candidate to be a youth leader. I watch everything they do,” Ledesma said.

Ortiz is a junior at the IDEA High School Montopolis campus in Austin. His family — which includes two brothers and two sisters, aged 1 to 20 — have been St. Albert members for about five years. After high school graduation, he hopes to attend Harvard University. Ortiz is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion and lector, and he sings in the choir and leads a confirmation class.

My goal in life is my service. I really love giving my service to the church,” Ortiz said. “I think in 10 years I’ll still be serving the church the way I do.”

Ortiz recently traveled to Rome with members of the NFCYM where he attended a general audience with Pope Francis. He sat about 30 feet away from the Holy Father who spoke about living life with joy.

While in Rome, Ortiz took the opportunity to admire the sights and sounds of the Eternal City. He was especially impressed with the Vatican Museum.

“The architecture. The language. Everything was absolutely beautiful … everything has a meaning. There’s all these little pieces you really have to analyze, to bring it together,” Ortiz said. “We’re all trying to figure out what it is that God wants us to get out of all this. Sometimes we get off track, but God is always there to put us in the right direction. We should allow ourselves to listen to him.”

In November, Ortiz and Gonzalez attended the National Catholic Youth Conference in Long Beach, California, where a woman left the young audience spellbound with her life story of courage and overcoming adversity.

“We had a speaker who has no arms. She managed to do everyday things with her feet. She knows how to put gas in her car with her feet. She has flown an aircraft with her feet. She drives with her feet. She opens a can of soda, in front of us, with her feet,” Ortiz said. “She learned to live without her arms and still find happiness in her life. It’s encouraging for us.”

Jose Gonzalez is a senior at Cedar Creek High School, 30 minutes southeast of Austin. He is the oldest of six — four brothers and one sister. After graduation, he plans to pursue a career in landscape irrigation. Ortiz sings in the choir and is a youth leader for confirmation classes. Ledesma said it is heartwarming to see Gonzalez grow from being “this shy boy, keeping to himself, not talkative, to going through confirmation retreat, to grow in his faith. He’s off to great things.”

When the Gonzalez family converted to Catholicism three years ago, Jose struggled to understand why.

“In the beginning, I didn’t really see anything. But eventually, going more and doing more activities. I actually learned to play guitar there, (from Ortiz’ father), and I started liking to attend Mass. And now I love going,” he said.

At the Long Beach conference, Gonzalez seized the opportunity to meet young Catholics from across the U.S.

“I’m not one of those people who really likes to talk, and especially in front of 3,000 people,” he said. “I was definitely able to get out of my comfort zone and be a little bit more of who I am.”

Attending St. Albert and volunteering at various ministries has been the catalyst for a special friendship between Ortiz and Gonzalez.

“You see them constantly at the parish. Doing. Helping,” Ledesma said.

Gonzalez and Ortiz will both serve two-year terms on the NFCYM advisory board.

Fred Afflerbach is a freelance writer living in Cedar Park. He is a 25-year member of the Knights of Columbus Council at St. Margaret Mary Parish. His work has been published in several daily Texas newspapers and he has published two novels.

¡Lee este artículo en español! (Spanish Language Version)