July 12, 2019

Boot camp strives to help teens build community

Clare Stephens, center, a mentor at the Missionary Disciples Institute hosted by Marian University in Indianapolis, plants flowers outside the Unleavened Bread Café in Indianapolis with Elizabeth Reed, right, a student at St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, La., on June 20. The activity aimed to help the young people become acquainted with the members of the café, which was founded as a community space for women who had been formerly incarcerated, addicted to drugs, or experienced other difficult circumstances. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

Clare Stephens, center, a mentor at the Missionary Disciples Institute hosted by Marian University in Indianapolis, plants flowers outside the Unleavened Bread Café in Indianapolis with Elizabeth Reed, right, a student at St. Louis Catholic High School in Lake Charles, La., on June 20. The activity aimed to help the young people become acquainted with the members of the café, which was founded as a community space for women who had been formerly incarcerated, addicted to drugs, or experienced other difficult circumstances. (Photo by Katie Rutter)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

Warm goodbyes and hugs were exchanged between two vastly different groups at the Unleavened Bread Café in Indianapolis on June 20. Three middle‑aged black women hugged and waved to the departing group of energetic high schoolers, mostly white and Latino, as if they had been family.

“We love you!” affirmed the founder of the café, Elease Womack.

“Thank you! God bless you!” some of the students replied.

The students had just spent several hours with the women as part of the Missionary Disciples Institute (MDI), a weeklong evangelization boot camp sponsored and hosted by Marian University in Indianapolis.

The goal of this experience was to have these teenagers encounter others—especially those whom they may not usually come in contact with—and find ways to build community.

“We’re all accompanying each other on our own journeys,” explained Jillian Donis, a student at Mooresville High School and a member of St. Thomas More Parish, both in Mooresville. “Everybody’s growing with God in a different way, but it’s like we’re all helping each other.”

The Unleavened Bread Café is a gathering place and a home for women recovering from addictions, imprisonment, homelessness and other challenging circumstances.

In addition to hearing stories from some of the women, the students also tended the next-door community garden that supplies fresh produce for the café.

“We’re all the body of Christ, so it’s finding ways to listen to the other and to grow and expand, to understand maybe a different perspective or different experiences, that informs our faith and our development as well,” explained Jeanne Hildalgo, the Marian University staff member who arranged the encounter.


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This experience was one of several “immersions” experienced by the 47 high-school-aged attendees of the Missionary Disciples Institute. The students, hailing from Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana, were divided into groups according to the aspect of ministry that they chose to focus on.

One group headed to a non-profit organization in the Bates-Hendricks neighborhood of Indianapolis to learn about community development. Another group was taught a type of meditative prayer by the Sisters of St. Benedict of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, and a third explored how to minister in multicultural settings at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis.

The final group of high school students spent time at Providence Cristo Rey High School, a college and career preparatory school in Indianapolis sponsored by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for those with limited financial resources, where they led a book discussion with peers from that school.

“I had this guy in my group, his name was Jerome, and he was very shy,” recalled Saul Cruz, an MDI attendee and member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “He didn’t want to talk. And then when I opened up to him, he opened up to me, and that to me is an encounter.

“It’s an encounter of a friend, I could say,” Saul continued. “I think the easiest way to do it is just [by] opening up yourself to other people, because they’re more likely to open up to you.”

Throughout the week, the students also spent time listening to keynote speakers about ministry and evangelization. They processed these lessons in small groups led by a Marian University theology professor.

The fourth day of the camp, June 20, also gave the students an opportunity for an encounter with the shepherd who leads the Church in central and southern Indiana.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson celebrated Mass with the teenagers, then stayed to speak with them, hear their experiences and answer their questions.

“I thank you for such a great witness that you give, in giving up this time when you could be doing so many other things,” said the archbishop at the conclusion of the liturgy.

“The fact that you’re making Christ the center and [that] service in his name a priority in your lives gives a tremendous witness,” he added.

On the last day of the camp, the teenagers were commissioned to be missionary disciples in their own communities. They were challenged to make a “mission plan” that outlined concrete actions they would take to evangelize.

“A number of students have shared their stories after MDI [and] what they’ve done with their mission plans, whether it be a small retreat that they did or sports and Bible studies,” explained Patrick Verhiley, the director of MDI.

“There’s another small community that brought it to their pastor [that] ‘we want to be more involved in the life of the Church,’ and because of that the pastor made room for them in their parish council, so youth now have a spot at the parish council,” he recalled.

This year marks the third MDI. Verhiley said that plans for the fourth camp, to take place next summer, are already in motion.

“The whole point of this [institute] is that our young people have experienced joy in Christ, and they should be talking about it with other people,” Verhiley said. “They’re rising to the challenge, and that’s what we’re excited about.”
 

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington.)

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