Young people find happiness in serving others

July 16, 2013

Pope Francis recently tweeted, “Christ leads us to go out from ourselves more and more, to give ourselves and to serve others.” 

Young people representing eight parishes and two Catholic high Schools gathered on June 9 to 13 at Cameron Retreat Center for the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization’s annual Catholic Summer Immersion program (CSI). This program is open to all youth in the Archdiocese and gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves in the social justice teachings of the Church. 

Bridgette Dobesh, a junior from St. Justin Martyr Catholic Church, has participated in CSI for three years. She said, “I come to CSI because I really enjoy the service projects and I know that I am making a difference in others’ lives.”

This year’s focus was on the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the teachings of Jesus that show us the path to true happiness. The goal was for the young people to learn that true happiness comes from giving of oneself to others.

The program began on Sunday as the young people gathered with their parents. They were challenged to enter into the week with an open heart and open mind. Parents were also asked to journey with their children while at home by praying for them throughout the week. 

Monday morning began with young people praying along with the saints who have gone before them who lived out their call to social justice. The day’s service focus was helping out the inner city Catholic Schools. 

The young people broke into seven different teams and traveled to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic School, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, St. Augustine Catholic School, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and St. Mary of the Purification Catholic School. 

A variety of service experiences were offered at these schools, including cleaning out storage rooms, painting and wood-chipping playgrounds. While these seem like minor services, by completing these and other tasks, it saved these schools from having to hire laborers and allows more money to go toward the Catholic education of children. 

Monday evening the participants gathered together for praise and worship music and then a presentation from the Archdiocesan Missions Office. 
Father Gerry Kelly, a Maryknoll missionary, and Dick Horstman, chair of the council, spoke of their experiences as missionaries and the call for all people to be missionaries at home and abroad. The evening ended with the opportunity for all to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Tuesday began with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. After being fed spirituality, the young people went out for service to the homeless and the hungry. 

Participants traveled to Loaves and Fishes, Mary’s Kitchen at St. Andrew’s in Channelview, Holy Family’s food pantry, Southeast Area Ministries and St. Vincent De Paul Society’s distribution center. The afternoon session consisted of catechesis on the causes and numbers of homeless and hungry in our country and in our area. 

All participants then gathered together for evening service at the Houston Food Bank. 

Participants started the day off Wednesday by reciting the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer. This day’s service would focus on the elderly. 

In partnership with Catholic Charities, a large number of participants served at the homes of two elderly shut-ins whose houses were in need of painting and yard work. Two other groups worked with Northwest Assistance Ministry and St. Vincent De Paul’s Retail and Voucher Ministry. 

Wednesday evening’s program consisted of praise and worship music catechesis on the Beatitudes and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. 

Nolan Wleczyk, a graduating senior who is member of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Rosenberg, described his experience serving in the home of an elderly woman: “Seeing the smile on the face of the lady we were serving was the most rewarding experience. All we did was paint her house and it was like we had just done the greatest thing in the world for her.”

Thursday morning began with a Liturgy of the Word and Litany of Remembrance focused on social justice in our world. 

The participants then headed off to Galveston Island for a day of service. Many young people spent the day at the Sunshine Center, which serves individuals with developmental disabilities. Other groups, in partnership with Holy Family Catholic Church, served many elderly people who needed help cleaning, organizing and working in their yard. 

Participants returned for an afternoon session in which they met with their parish or school group to discuss how to take this experience back to their parishes or schools.

Parents returned in the evening to meet with their children where they discussed their experiences and prayed together. 

By the end of the week, the young people were ready to change. They had discovered the true path to happiness in exploring The Beatitudes and recognized the need to go out from themselves and serve others. 

Chastity Chov, a graduating senior who has participated in CSI for four years said, “CSI is a very humbling experience. Too often we live in our own little world and don’t open our eyes to see those around us who are in need. We are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet here on earth.”