DIOCESE OF ORLANDO | “Man can only find himself in a sincere gift of self,” said Saint Pope John Paul II. This summer youth from around the diocese experienced those words in action as they went on mission trips, living out their faith while serving in South Florida and beyond.
On June 15 – 22, 15 students and three staff members from Bishop Moore Catholic High School in Orlando served more than 100 migrant children at St. Ann’s Mission in Homestead, FL. The mission is under the care of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a community founded in Miami by Mother Adela Galindo, and currently serving in various dioceses, including Orlando.
Throughout the week, Bishop Moore students prepared and taught faith-based lessons and activities to children between the ages of 2-14. “This trip has changed my feelings about God,” said Sophia, class of 2020. “I hear people say God is love, but I had never felt that until this week.”
While living the Gospel message through their work with migrant children, the students participated in prayer and community with the sisters, finding fellowship with other teens on mission from Notre Dame High School in Peoria, IL. A highlight of the week was a time of sharing with Mother Galindo and listening to her wisdom.
Claire, an upcoming senior, said, “After this mission trip, I am changed. I didn’t know why I came, but after hearing Mother talk about love, I realized my purpose. My purpose is to love.”
Some parish youth groups attended Alive in You service camps from Florida to Missouri. Iliani Perez led the group from St. Augustine Parish in Casselberry and Jordan Trejo took youth from St. John Vianney Parish in Orlando to Tampa. They worked with The Volunteer Way, a faith based non-profit organization helping those in need from children and seniors to the homeless.
After spending the day packing boxes to be shipped to shelters and harvesting plants to feed the hungry, the group would spend time on the week’s lessons focusing on the Nicene Creed. Perez says each day touched “on how the Creed applies to our lives.” Through daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration and Confession, the youth were able to take the day’s events and encounter God through reflection.
One student missioner, Felix, was also homeless between age 6 and 12, moving from hotels and shelters until he entered the foster care system. Now adopted and living in a stable and loving home, he admits he struggled with the idea of going. In the end, he gave up a family trip to the beach to pay forward the gifts he was given. “It was definitely eye opening,” he said. “I could relate it to my past. Being able to make a difference, even a little one… you just get this great feeling. I was appreciative every day we could help people out. It made me appreciate everything I have now.”
Susan Engel is youth minister for St. Patrick Youth (SPY) in Mount Dora. She took 25 people to a Catholic Heart Work Camp (CHWC) in Hardeeville, SC, June 15-22. They served a single parent with a disabled child, a veteran’s widow with four young children, the elderly, and some people with mental health issues.
Engel shared how, mid-week, they learned one of the residents they were helping had no refrigerator. While youth ministers pooled resources and planned fundraisers to buy one, they received a text message that Catholic Charities already delivered it. “God was working in the background,” she said.
One young man became quite close to the resident his team assisted. Engel noted, “When they did not have time to finish the railing for her new stairs, he recruited six more youth from our group and one of our leaders to go back and finish the job. They missed the beach, but joined us for lunch and the cathedral.”
While addressing his parish, Bryce, a participant, said, “My experience at Catholic Heart Work Camp was incredibly life changing. The difference between our life and others that we served changed my perspective of the world. Between painting a house in 100 degree weather and getting close with our client, I was always learning something and somehow going way out of my comfort zone.” Bryce added, he learned about his faith through the program’s spiritual elements.
“We started exploring our faith and how our love of God comes through our actions. For me, this was the biggest life changer I’ve ever been through. This changed my entire perspective of my faith and made my relationship with God very personal. This experience is not something I’ll forget or walk away from, but just strengthens me in Christianity and makes me the saint God wants me to be…”
As they shared the love of Christ through their work, Engel told the youth, “… you don’t know who you will be ministering to and what you will receive in return. It is all about walking the faith and building relationships with people.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic and Amanda Livermore, Director of Mission Effectiveness & Planned Giving at Bishop Moore Catholic High School – July 1, 2019