April 14, 2006

Youths spend spring break
rebuilding homes and lives

By Katie Berger
Special to The Criterion

Take typical spring break ingredients: sandy beaches, warm weather and refreshing water. Mix them with work clothes, a gym floor and prayer. What do you get?

A not-so-typical spring break for 110 young people from the archdiocese.

When students and chaperones from Indianapolis went to Mississippi on April 2-8 for spring break, they did more than rebuild homes in an area devastated by Hurricane Katrina last August. They also renewed hope for many of the people they served there.

In return, the students, from 16 high schools in the Indianapolis area, learned to value the blessings in their own lives.

While the devastation in New Orleans has received much of the focus in the months following the hurricane, the Mississippi coast was also heavily damaged, including some areas where entire neighborhoods were destroyed.

In Pascagoula and Biloxi, the youths spent their days working on jobs that ranged from removing debris from yards and beaches to helping with homes that hadn’t been touched since the hurricane. Seemingly small tasks took on huge importance to many of the residents of the two Gulf Coast cities.

“The people in the Gulf Coast are so exhausted that even just cleaning up their yard is a big help,” said Peter Marshall, a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Scenes of the hurricane’s destruction are still obvious on the Gulf coast. Blue tarps, boarded windows and piles of rubble dot the streets as a visible reminder of the destruction. Yet they also serve as a sign of progress.

Many archdiocesan youths were inspired by the hope of the families they had served.

“What really changed my perspective was the fact that what was an easy job to me was a burden off her shoulders,” said Stephanie Gray about a woman her group had helped.

Many of the youths had similar experiences as Stephanie, a junior at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville.

“People can see God in the midst of Pascagoula and Biloxi because of you,” Father Jonathan Meyer told the youths in a homily. Father Meyer is the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry and the associate pastor at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish, and helped coordinate the trip.

The group was housed in the gymnasium at Resurrection High School in Pascagoula, which also benefited from many jobs completed on its grounds. After working each day, the volunteers returned to the gym for showers, dinner, a social event and Mass.

All-night eucharistic adoration took place in a small room that had been converted into a chapel. Many students took advantage of the opportunity to pray for people affected by the hurricane.

“There is a reason why we are bringing the Blessed Sacrament every single night into that back chapel,” Father Meyer said. “We can rebuild their homes, we can paint their classrooms, we can pick up their debris, but it’s not going to bring the healing that’s truly needed. Christ is the only one who can heal this area of the world.”

Several times during the week, students from Indianapolis and the host school, Resurrection, gathered for Mass, prayer and fun, including a talent show with acts from both groups.

Many volunteers had a sobering experience as they walked through Mercy Cross High School, a Catholic school in Biloxi. Heavily damaged by Katrina, the school will never reopen in its current location.

“It’s been seven months and the library still smells like books,” said Aimee O’Connor, a junior at Cardinal Ritter and member of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis.

The teens and adult leaders left these sights reflecting on many aspects of their faith. They also left with some questions.

“Where was Christ at the end of August, right when Hurricane Katrina hit this land? He was right there,” Father Meyer said.

The journey also served as a reminder to the youths of the gift their life is, said Joe Clady, a freshman at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish.

“I need to remember that I am blessed,” Joe said. †


Local site Links: