Youth minister uses his talents in animation to illustrate God's love

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While most people wind their fingers around rosary beads or flip through devotional books at adoration, Miguel De Angel, director of youth ministry at Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria, draws. Often it’s a theological curiosity, such as pondering the incarnation; other times it’s a petition for someone in need that moves his marker across paper. 

“I pray for a particular person in mind, and draw 20 or some drawings,” said De Angel. Afterward, he asks the person he was praying for to pick one of the drawings. “I find blessings through the generosity of sharing (my art).”

“If you knew God was speaking to you every time you drew, why wouldn’t you draw?” Miguel De Angel, youth director of Good Shepherd Church in Alexandria

 

He has incorporated God into his art since he was young. “Growing up, I would draw superheroes, dragons, religious scenes and the crucifixion,” he said.

It was De Angel’s childhood dream to work in animation, and in 1991 he left his native Puerto Rico to study at the Pratt Institute in New York City. Toward the end of his college career, the dream came to campus. 

“At that time Disney and Warner Brothers and all the big studios would come to recruit,” said De Angel. 

Of the 76 students who applied to work with the animation studios, only three were selected to go to California. De Angel was one of them. Of those three, one was chosen for an internship with Disney, and the other now directs the “Ice Age” movies. But, when De Angel’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the budding animator put his career on hold and returned to Puerto Rico. He said he was grateful to have been with his mother when the deaths of his father and grandfather came in close succession. When De Angel left Puerto Rico two years later, the prospects of Los Angeles or New York didn’t interest him. He said he felt he was called to return to where he had established himself as a freelancer — Northern Virginia.

Through a series of freelance gigs and opportunities teaching cartoon animation, De Angel found himself nurturing a passion to minister to youths. It was a natural transition when he began volunteering at Good Shepherd with his wife, Sue, in 2007. Three months later, the position of assistant director of youth ministry was offered to De Angel. With his first child on the way and preoccupied withfinances, he turned it down, but offered to help find a worthy candidate. 

“The Friday before WorkCamp 2007, I heard the director, Kevin Bohli, say, ‘Lean into it,’ ” said De Angel. Internally, he heard a voice say, “I know that you’re afraid, but all I’m asking you is to lean into it. I got you.” Finishing the week at WorkCamp, and reflecting on the assistant director position, he applied for it and was accepted. Four years later, De Angel became the director of youth ministry. 

While animation was his passion as a child, as an adult, his passion has changed. “What I wanted is not what God wanted,” he said. “A lot of my passion in ministry is from being a dad (to two sons).”

In his nine years at Good Shepherd, De Angel is known for his artistic contributions, such as comics for the weekly bulletins, a logo for youth ministry, art-infused retreats and his attention to youths. De Angel won the diocesan Excellence in Youth Ministry award last month. He said it was a surprise and he was humbled to be among his fellow award winners. 

“In 20 years, I hope that someone can say that they still have their faith because of Good Shepherd,” he said. 

Courtesy of Miguel De Angel

More than a year ago, De Angel went to King’s Dominion with another youth group that was active in street evangelization. The youth director asked De Angel to draw something on two index cards. De Angel was amazed how the youths used the cards to engage others in prayer. He’s since traded in his heavy sketchbooks for index cards, calling them “prayer cards,” which he uses for evangelization.

“The drawings were conceived in prayer,” said De Angel. “So the index card exploded the possibilities (of ministry).”

During retreats or youth nights, De Angel encourages teens to pick up a marker and draw. Some get into it, others just write and others feel intimidated. To those who feel they aren’t artistic, he encourages them to try by simply shading in letters.

Prior to a 2015 retreat, De Angel asked for prayer requests on Facebook. He received one from a couple whose newborn needed skull surgery. Honoring their request, De Angel went to adoration and drew an image of Christ holding a baby.

“I was very moved by the picture, and I told them it was for them,” said De Angel. “They were very moved by it too.”

He had the image blessed by Pope Francis at a papal Mass and sent it to the family. They kept it with them at the hospital during their baby’s surgery. Today, he makes reprints of the image and gives it to couples who struggle to conceive, have lost a child or have a child with an addiction. People are often surprised when they receive an original illustration from De Angel. He hopes it’s an invitation to an impromptu prayer.

"If you knew God was speaking to you every time you drew, why wouldn't you draw?"

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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