Maria Knuth knows first hand the impact that being a part of ECYD can have on a young person; it was here that she herself first discovered and developed a personal friendship with Jesus. During her ECYD missionary summer when she was fifteen years old, she heard God calling her to a deeper friendship with him, and to his mission, and it was being a part of ECYD – and knowing that there were other adolescents like her all across the world who had the same desire to serve the Church and others – that ignited the growing fire for mission she still feels today. “I realized that I was a member of the Church, and had a mission, not for when I was older, but then, as a teen, and that Jesus was allowing me to help him bring so many people to heaven,” says Maria. “That fire was lit back then and it has only burned brighter through the years.”
Today, Maria, who has been a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi for twenty years, finds that her mission, first kindled and cultivated during her time in ECYD, has come full-circle: she is currently serving as the ECYD Life Department Director for the territory of North America.
The ECYD Life Department aims to serve and support the localities in the growth and development of ECYD in the territory, by safeguarding and promoting ECYD identity, and by offering support to the local ECYD directors, team leaders and members. The department also manages the ECYD programs and resources created on a national level. For Maria, this ultimately means supporting and guiding the apostolate, the mentors, and the members, “so that each one can fully live their mission within the charism our Lord has given us.” “I see the role as one of encouraging, challenging, visioning, and dreaming,” says Maria. “I get glimpses of the dreams of the heart of Jesus for our young people, and for our Regnum Christi family, and for our Church.”
As Department Director, Maria’s roles and responsibilities are diverse. “I don’t really have typical days,” says Maria. “My day is shaped by my prayer, my community, and my mission.” After Mass and time for personal prayer, Maria spends the rest of her time in teleconference meetings with her different department teams, working with the ECYD international team, touching base with different ECYD directors, and following up on various projects.
Of all of Maria’s diverse responsibilities, she especially enjoys the opportunities she has to work with the ECYD members themselves, supporting and encouraging them to share the mission. “My passion is that others can know and love Jesus, and be so taken by him that they, in turn, become his apostles,” says Maria, “to be a bridge so that others can encounter the person of Jesus Christ.”
As the ECYD Life Department Director, Maria doesn’t always get to witness the fruits of her labor; Maria calls her work in ECYD a “gradual process” that, instead of highlighting her own efforts and outcomes, focuses on supporting “the one accompanied to live fully their mission, help them be more fully themselves in the mission, and serve those God has placed on their path.” In addition, working with adolescents, and a diverse group of young adults, presents its own challenges. “In all honesty, there are different degrees of openness and willingness to be accompanied,” says Maria. “I try to respect where each ECYD director is at, and try to meet them where they are.”
This is why Maria calls her role of forming formators “very hidden work.” “Normally, there aren’t big moments of ‘fireworks’,” says Maria. Nevertheless, she’s been blessed with many opportunities that have allowed her to see how God is working through ECYD, and the directors whom Maria accompanies and guides:
“A strong moment of group accompaniment for me happened a few years back when we had ECYD Week [a week-long event where ECYD formators receive formation through workshops, small group discussions, and encounters of prayer and reflection], where about fifty of the adult ECYD mentors from around the territory gathered to deepen in the ECYD identity, belonging and spirituality. There were many Holy Spirit moments during that week, where many eyes and hearts were opened to the beauty of our charism, trust was rebuilt, and a fresh enthusiasm was enkindled in many hearts of these apostles. The ECYD momentum has been building since that moment over five years ago. It is humbling to be an active collaborator in the work of the Spirit and to surrender it to him and let him lead.”
Maria has also had the opportunity to share the formative methods and practices of ECYD with a broader audience; last year, she, along with lay Regnum Christi members and Legionary priests, helped facilitate a mission training weekend in California for people involved in ministry. “It was a powerful experience for me to share our formative style in ECYD, to see the charism alive and the Spirit working, and it was moving to see God working in the hearts of people,” says Maria. “One of the youth ministers present who has been in ministry for over fifteen years, with tears in her eyes, asked why she had never learned all of this, and stated that it would completely change the way she did ministry.”
One of the greatest fruits of that Maria has witnessed in her directorship role with ECYD is a personal one: she considers her apostolate to be a space of encounter with Jesus. “This role has challenged me and stretched me in so many ways, and put me in a place of constantly learning and growing,” says Maria. “It has been a very enriching experience. In some way, it has been soil for my relationship with Jesus to grow and mature.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the pastoral work of ECYD directors, who normally would be busy hosting camps, missions, and conventions over the summer months, but for Maria, the current situation provides more of an opportunity than a setback. Instead of focusing on putting on events during the summer, the ECYD directors that Maria supports have had be flexible and adaptive, finding creative ways to encourage their members to continue to live out their ECYD lifestyle. “For me, I think it gives us a window into a deeper reality, to remind us that ECYD is a charism, a gift from Jesus, and our mission is that Christ reigns in their hearts and in the world, not that we pull off a successful summer activity, or have lots of apostolic activities, but that we form hearts of apostles,” says Maria. “The current situation is offering us an opportunity to let Jesus do new things in and through us.”
One of the new endeavors that Maria is currently involved in is the ECYD Training Project, where she, along with a task force, is working on creating resources for Regnum Christi members to help them more deeply understand the hearts and needs of ECYD youth. A big part of this project is developing the Formation Pathway, which will help define the formative style unique to ECYD, and provide on-going development and formation for the adult ECYD mentors. “This is a pretty big endeavor, but it is exciting to be a part of,” says Maria. “It has a lot of reach, both in depth and scope. Let’s see what our Lord wants to do.”