October 17, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Homeland Mission experience helps youths grow in faith and hope

For years, I have been trying to help us realize that we have many poor people, homeless and dreadfully lonely elderly folks here in our midst.

I have tried to foster an understanding that we have mission needs right here at home.

Many folks have no idea how grave the situation is. And some people don’t understand that we share a responsibility to help the poor and the forgotten among us.

It occurred to me several years ago that we would do well to provide hands-on experiences for our young people to serve in our home missions here at home.

Our archdiocesan director of youth ministry, Father Jonathan Meyer, picked up the idea and developed a weeklong summer program, Homeland Mission, geared to engage high school age youths.

Toward the end of the 2008 version of the program, he invited the participating youths to write letters to me about their experience. The content of these messages is enlightening. I share some of them with you.

Sarah wrote: “Thank you so much for making us realize how it is important to not only serve those distant from us, but also those in our own community. The joy we bring to other peoples’ lives is so apparent, and I love the feeling I get when I can see that I have made a difference in their lives. From working with small children, disabled adults, [and] the homeless, to helping just clean up around town or assisting the flood victims with their repairs, I’ve learned even the smallest acts of kindness do so much in one life.”

Thomas wrote: “I learned a lot about my faith and seeing Jesus in others. It was amazing being able to serve others in the ways we were asked to.”

Sean wrote: “This week I have cared for elderly, homeless, damaged and poor alike. My favorite moment was when Mike told a joke at the Caring Place and told us his life story.”

Lara wrote: “Instead of dreading Mass like I used to, I now look forward to it. I have also met some awesome people. … I have nothing but compassion for the sick, the elderly, the homeless. Helping them gives me more confidence in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Isaac wrote: “It helped me get closer to God by helping people in need and seeing that it is just not about me.”

Bridget wrote: “Thank you for helping create this chance to mature and to find ways to serve others. You have no idea what this means to some of us. This mission trip showed me what small things can do and to not take things for granted.”

Shelby wrote: “I cannot thank you enough for giving me this chance to grow in my faith. This week has really opened my eyes to what is going on just in my own backyard.”

An anonymous youth wrote: “Two weeks from today, I lost someone really close to me. He was 26, my family, my friend and my role model. This week has been hard because I have lost my faith, in part, because of what happened. I didn’t even leave my house before then. This week has given me a home where I was who I was before. I have also received hope and my faith back. Thank you.”

Nicholas wrote: “Thank you for taking the time to help and think of this great mission. … I know people say they grow in faith, but I really did grow in faith. It really helped me get closer to God.”

Stephen wrote: “This opportunity helped me realize how fortunate I am and how desperate so many men and women are in our own city. Due to this mission, I felt I took a step toward God as I saw the face of Jesus in many of the needy.”

Sarah wrote: “Not only was it fun, but also very spiritual. I believe I became closer to God. My favorite thing our group did was going to St. Mary’s Child Center. I love kids!”

Matthew wrote: “Thank you for making our week here at Homeland Mission good and possible. This was a life-changing experience for me.”

Patrick wrote: “How can we expect to help others if we need the help? It is for that reason that I am ever so grateful for the chance—no, the privilege—to do something to help the community that I call home. Home is where the heart is. I’d like to demonstrate my heart’s place through my service.”

Laura wrote: “When we volunteer around Indianapolis, we can return and help the people even more during the school year.”

Clearly, our youths learned that it is in giving that we receive. And we grow stronger in faith and hope. †

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