Adoration. Community. Theology. Service.
Editor Elizabeth Herzing interviews Deborah Alaniz Estrada, executive director of ACTS Missions in San Antonio, about its mission to spread the gospel message and its vision to “ignite Catholics worldwide with the eternal flame of the Holy Spirit…and bring about the New Evangelization by fostering love and true discipleship, leading others to commitment and obedience to Our Lord Jesus Christ by every word, action, and thought.”
q. Provide a brief history of the organization and its work. How did it get started?
a. ACTS Missions formally began in 1997, ten years after parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) parish in Selma, TX, hosted the first ACTS Retreat. The caretakers of the retreat have enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and women, teens and retirees who are rich, poor, Catholic, and non-Catholic in the United States and beyond. ACTS has reinvigorated the spiritual lives of individuals, families, and entire parishes. The way this wonderful program came to be is a beautiful blend of the Holy Spirit and those who listen and follow God.
Planning for a retreat began in 1987 when Ed Courtney invited two of his friends, Joe Hayes and Marty Sablik, to a coffee-shop meeting. Their previous experience with an event called the Cursillo retreat inspired them to form a parish-based retreat that could be attended by both Catholics and non-Catholics. The intent was for parishioners to return from the retreat with a desire to serve their parish community. The pastor of OLPH, Msgr. Patrick Cronin, endorsed the retreat, as did Archbishop Patrick Flores.
The first men’s ACTS retreat was held July 23-26, 1987, and the first women’s ACTS retreat was held that October 1-4. After those first retreats, ACTS spread from parish to parish throughout the San Antonio Archdiocese. By 1997, fifteen parishes had an ACTS program in place.
In that same year, ACTS Missions was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Larry and Rose Mary Lopez and Tony and Terri Deosdade—who had had such profound experiences on their retreat—started ACTS Missions in order to offer people worldwide a similar opportunity.
In 2007, in partnership with the Archdiocese of San Antonio, ACTS Missions obtained a copyright for the ACTS retreat. From its original headquarters at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, this small organization now leverages thousands of volunteers every year who bring the retreat to others and allow them to experience the love of God through their fellow Christians. Twenty chapters have been established in the United States as an extension of ACTS Missions to support the process in local dioceses.
And the retreat is now offered for adults in both English and Spanish and for teens in English. ACTS retreats now take place in 569 parishes worldwide, representing twenty-eight states in the US and five other countries, including Mexico, Panama, Honduras, South Africa, and Canada. The overwhelming success of ACTS is due to the ever-working presence of the Holy Spirit alive within hundreds of people who carry the retreats to new parishes.
ACTS Retreats now have a thirty-year history, and the caregivers of those retreats, ACTS Missions, celebrated twenty years in 2017.
q. How is ACTS Missions unique in its view and approach?
a. ACTS Missions spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ among Catholic communities by promoting, consulting in, facilitating, and coordinating ACTS Retreats. The four pillars of the retreat come from the ACTS acronym: Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service. As an instrument of God, ACTS is a light that will help bring about the New Evangelization by offering an opportunity for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, fostering love and true intentional discipleship, and leading others to a commitment and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ through service to parish community. The focus of ACTS is on parish life, including sacramentals, traditions, ministries, and parish needs.
q. How has the organization changed lives?
a. Opening the eyes and hearts of others to God’s word, ACTS has been credited with saving people’s lives, saving marriages, and leading individuals to religious life and vocations. Pastors have praised ACTS for having positive effects on their parish. Bishops and other church leaders have called it the most important evangelization tool in the Catholic Church today. All of this is a result of faith-filled people having the courage and perseverance to be led by the Holy Spirit.
“When I first answered the calling to attend an ACTS retreat, I went for selfish reasons. I came out of it a new person with a new perspective of what it truly means to serve the Lord.”
—Minerva Holmes, retreatant
“The ACTS Retreat is the most powerful, transforming experience I’ve seen.”
—Deacon Fred, Immaculate Conception, Texas.
“The retreat is a great help to the parish. It enriches the parishes.”
—Fr. John MacInnes, MA.
q. How can people participate in and support ACTS?
a. Join our mission by visiting Actsmissions.org. Anyone interested in attending a retreat can search upcoming retreats and find ACTS Missions chapters that support their local diocese and the surrounding region. For those who have attended a retreat and are interested in serving on a future retreat team, leadership training (on location or online) is available. Request our quarterly newsletter for up-to-date information on our latest mission retreats and organization efforts. As a nonprofit, we rely solely on donations. Visit our website and click on “Support ACTS” to give. Your generosity allows us to support existing parishes worldwide and plan for serving new locations. We receive requests weekly to serve parishes around the world. All are welcome to join us in 2018 and beyond!