by Moira Cullings
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jessica Cabral has a knack for passing on the Catholic faith to the next generation.
It’s a passion that’s guided her career.
While serving as the director of religious education (DRE) at Blessed Sacrament Parish here, Cabral spent much of her time with confirmation students.
Her work made her want to do more for youth in Wyandotte County.
“Reading their letters that they have to write to the archbishop every year [requesting the sacrament of confirmation] made my heart break sometimes,” she said.
“They have such a deep desire to have a relationship with Jesus,” she said, “and [when] they’re not able to reach that, it breaks my heart.”
She needed to do more.
And she did. Cabral became the director of ReachKCK on June 20.
“Having this opportunity at Reach and being able to work with [youth] to help them build this relationship with Jesus is what essentially moved me to pursue this opportunity,” she said.
ReachKCK, the archdiocesan youth outreach ministry in Wyandotte County, invites teenagers into a community of faith.
The ministry offers a plethora of opportunities, including monthly activities like eucharistic adoration and Luke 18 retreats.
Based at Blessed Sacrament Church, ReachKCK also provides a space for teens to spend time after school to study and learn activities like art and music — skills that are taught by local volunteers.
Taking the job was a difficult decision for Cabral, who spent several years as Blessed Sacrament’s parish secretary and ultimately its DRE.
But her desire to bring youth closer to Christ in a hands-on way won out.
Born in Mexico, Cabral moved to the United States with her family at age 6 and grew up in Wyandotte County, where she began volunteer work with the archdiocesan Hispanic ministry at age 16.
During her time working at Blessed Sacrament, where Cabral is still a parishioner, she witnessed an increase in Central American families immigrating to Kansas City.
She believes her own experiences will help her relate to the young people who come to ReachKCK.
She’s eager to let them know “that God loves them.”
Deacon Dana Nearmyer, director of the office of evangelization, described Cabral as the “perfect fit” for ReachKCK.
“Many priests submitted endorsements for her to be considered for the position because of positive experience of working with her,” he said.
Deacon Nearmyer also expressed the importance of a Catholic youth ministry in Wyandotte County, where parishes have many young people but few staff members to support them.
“ReachKCK helps coordinate parish staff and volunteers who work with young people to build up networks, open up regional and national opportunities like the March for Life, create a bridge to local offerings like Camp Tekakwitha and provide world class formation experiences close to home,” he said.
Father Mark Mertes, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, and moderator of the curia, expressed his excitement for Cabral, who he worked with for many years at Blessed Sacrament.
“Jessica knows personally and culturally the challenges that many young people in KCK are facing,” he said. “She understands the needs of the immigrant population in KCK and is also a wonderful friend to the established members of the parish.
“She has a pleasant disposition that is combined with a high level of skill in expressing herself in written form and spoken — both in English and Spanish. This will be a great asset for her ministry.”
Father Mertes also emphasized the ability of ReachKCK to connect with the younger generation.
“Conversions happen one relationship at a time,” he said, “and ReachKCK has as its vision to create this community where urban teens can encounter Christ.”
He believes the archdiocese’s commitment to support the ministry is a witness for young people in urban settings, where “progress seems to come slowly,” and that the ministry can also save young lives by providing a “nurturing community.”
Cabral stressed how essential ReachKCK’s mission is, particularly during this time when “society is attacking family values and our values as Catholics so strongly.”
“To provide a safe haven for [youth] to be able to express their faith, live their faith and learn about their faith is something crucial,” she added.
Cabral is eager to dive into her work and hopes to make a strong impact.
“I’m just very excited and look forward to being able to share the love that I know God has for each individual person,” she said.
Those interested in volunteering at ReachKCK are encouraged to send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (913) 449-1420.