Spring Break Mission Trip to Biloxi - 2006

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Reflections from the youth

In our attempt to bring ever-new things to this blog, Katie has gone out and gotten some reflections written by youth on the trip (good job, Katie!). Without any more introduction needed, here they are:

Rebecca Totten, Sacred Heart Parish, Roncalli H.S.

For me this has truly been an amazing experience.  I have seen and felt things that I simply cannot be put into words.  I never realized how much they need our help and how truly grateful everyone is despite all that they’ve been through. This trip has shown me that I have a great life that I should thank God for.  It has shown me to appreciate the most important things in life while they are still here- family and friends.

Tracey Horan, St. Jude, Roncalli H.S.

An individual who brought some light to the darkness of Katrina aftermath was a young girl named Claire.  The day my group worked on her house, Claire and her family visited to bring us cookies and thank us for our work.  Once Claire had given me a cookie, we started talking about where her family had gone, what school was like for her, and even her favorite movies (we both love The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Claire even showed me, without a change in her excited tone, where her swing set had been and a purse she found among the rubble that she once used to keep her pencils.  Then I asked Claire what grade she was in; she told me she was in second grade.  I stopped for a moment and realized she was in the same grade as the students in my cadet teaching class –children I work with every day.  Claire told me their class plays the spelling game, “Sparkle,” a game I have led just about every week for second graders in Indy. 

To be honest, I probably allowed Hurricane Katrina to escape my memory weeks after it occurred.  It seemed easy to separate myself from people hundreds of miles away, living in places and situations far different from mine.  Yet, speaking with just a few of the individuals involved, I have come to realize that they aren’t quite so different.  The only real different is that while we can go home and take out pictures of the aftermath from time to time, they see it every time they step outside, every time they go to school, or every time visit their houses.  Even in our absence, we must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Steph Gray, St. Thomas More Parish, Cardinal Ritter High School

When I first heard about this mission trip from my mom, I blew it off as another excuse for her to get me out of the house, but as I learned that more and more of my friends were going, I gave in.

The 14-hour car ride was interesting to say the least.  I didn’t start to get excited for the trip until we were actually in Pascagoula.  The next day was full of work, nothing exciting.  On the second day we went and emptied a storage shed for a teacher at Resurrection.  She was so thankful to clean out the shed that she took us out to lunch.

What really changed my perspective was the fact that what was an easy job to me was a burden off her shoulders.  God put me in Pascagoula to help these people and I am receiving a lesson in love in return.  Christ is truly visible in every hurricane victim and I am lucky enough to be Christ’s hands.

As this week finishes up, I reflect on how lucky I am to have an archdiocese who wants to help, friends who feel that it is necessary to make a difference, a mom who gave me a push (I love you Mom!) and a Lord who knows no boundaries.

Austin Hart, Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish, Center Grove H.S. and Julie Ardelean, St. Malachy Parish, Cardinal Ritter H.S.

On Wednesday we didn’t do very much physical work, but I still felt as if I got a lot done.  We worked a little out on a house for like an hour and the neighbor, Chick, started talking to us.  He wanted to take us to a nursing home that hadn’t been touched.  I thought it was cool that he took us to help some place that didn’t benefit him at all.  We got lost and he felt bad.  After lunch, Chick talked to us for a long time; he told us, complete strangers, everything from the track record he set in junior high to how he contemplated suicide after the storm.  Everything he said came down to Jesus.  His faith was awesome.  This whole experience is really making my faith and love for Jesus grow.

Morgan Beatty, St. Monica Parish, Pike High School

My work group went to the 100-year-old home of a sweet woman named, Beverly whose daughter goes to Resurrection High School.  Her home is exactly 100 years old this year and she was planning on entering it into the historical society until the hurricane came and caused much damage.  All day, while working on the home, demolishing the boards in the walls, and tearing down ceiling tiles, I was amazed by Beverly’s outlook and attitude in the situation.  Even though the hurricane caused much of her home to have to be taken apart, she was happy now that she could put insulation in her walls, for example.  I was also thinking about the trust she had in us while we were working on her house.  She would come and tell us to work on tearing down a wall and then leave to go to work in her shed that housed her embroidery business.  I was expecting a supervisor or someone to be worried about the way the job was being done, so I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed how trusting she was of our hard work. 

Later on in the day, we had finished all of the jobs we had come to do in Beverly’s beautiful home.  We were planning on walking the few blocks back to the school because our van had been used by some one else.  Beverly offered us a ride in her pickup truck even though it was only a two minute drive.  We were all proud to ride through the town in the back of the truck.  Something I learned from this simple act of graciousness is the importance if giving and receiving love.  We came here expecting and wanting to help all of these people in any way we can, to do hard labor for the purpose of serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.  But, we can learn something from the humble actions of the Mississippi people, too.  Since our time with Beverly, I have reflected on the concept of accepting love in all forms to others, but it takes a humble heart to receive and accept thankfully that same love.  The people in Mississippi have had to learn to humble themselves to the many people that have come from the country to help their communities.  Now, they simply want to do what they can to give that love back in return.  This is how a simple car ride or a simple offering of drinks and snacks showed me how important it is not only to give love, but to allow others to give it freely to you.

Brian Caputo, St. Malachy Parish, Cardinal Ritter High School

The golden rule for the trip:  participate instead of anticipate.  The 14 hour bus ride was all participation.  There was rarely a silent, or even dull moment the entire ride.  Yet the ride gave us a bigger picture; the fact we will suffer together for a greater cause.  While we made great friends, we knew we would face a long week.  One day’s work showed us how difficult things really are.  The great destruction took an emotional toll on everyone.  Nonetheless, we persevered.  The saying goes “the best exercise is bending down and lifting up another.”  The sleeplessness, muscle aches, and bug bites here are no match for the fulfillment and joy from helping a fellow child of God in need.  I want to especially thank my parents for their understanding, sacrifice, and love to allow me to go on such a life-changing trip.

Jessica Szamocki, Our Lady of the Greenwood, Home School

This mission trip has been an incredible experience for me.  I’m so happy that I’ve been able to come serve Christ through these people and put a smile on their faces.  We have brought so much joy and hope to these people just by our presence and support.  I’ve been so amazed by the joy of the hurricane victims we’ve met.  Even though they’ve lost so much, many are trying to remain strong and hopeful.  Seeing these people’s joy and courage has really encouraged me and also helped me become more grateful for the many things I do have.  I feel so privileged to come down here and be able to serve these people.  By serving them, I have been able to serve Christ and know Him more.  There have been hard times and sacrifices on this trip, but all in the suffering is totally worth it knowing that I am doing it all for Christ.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:15 a.m. on April 6, 2006

Today's word from Katie:

Here's the latest:

"You have to see it to believe it.  No matter how much news coverage I have seen, it took seeing destruction to realize how much Hurricane Katrina affected this area.  Many groups also went over to Biloxi for the first time yesterday and many shared the same reactions and thoughts I did.   When I first saw the destruction yesterday, I was completely overwhelmed.  This is what a person must see in order to really understand.  When Father Meyer asked last night in mass about how many people were emotionally impacted by what they saw in Biloxi, almost all hands went up. 

"Yesterday three groups cleaned debris along the beach and three groups went to Biloxi to work on a house that had not been touched since the hurricane.  They worked hard to salvage personal items from the homeowner and then began the slow task of ripping out drywall, carpet, cabinets, bathrooms fixtures, leaving the home virtually only down to the studs.  From what I hear from those youth, it was hard work but a very powerful experience.

"For me, yesterday was the day the trip started to come together.  It was the sights from Biloxi that helped me really appreciate the work we all have been doing all week.  While the noticeable damage in Pascagoula is not as great, I realized just how massage this storm truly was to the entire area.  I’ve noticed, too, that the teams have really begun to gel.  Each group has youth from all over the diocese, from many different high schools, but still they are united by their hard work.  It would seem as though they’ve all known each other for longer than a few days.  I’m continually amazed by their willingness to spend spring break working here in Mississippi.

"After returning from work yesterday and after dinner, youth were given free time to either hang out at the gym or spend some time on the beach; most chose the beach.  We returned for Mass, followed by a movie in the gym before bed. 

"This morning, we joined Resurrection High School students again for morning prayer.  It’s a moving experience to be in the cafeteria with both sets of students – those from here and our Indianapolis youth.  I recognize not the differences - that they have been affected by the hurricane and we haven’t - but instead all that is very similar with the students.  However anyone looks at it, both groups are still high school students active in sports or clubs, with jobs, and interested in music and movies and everything else.  We’ve been able to meet a few students here and there, but tonight we will have the opportunity to get both groups together.  Tonight we have invited their students to our mass, followed by a talent show in the gym.  Actually, we invited them to their own gym, so that’s funny. 

"Today, groups are out in various places.  Several teams traveled to Biloxi to be assigned a job there, and others again stayed in Pascagoula.  Two teams are helping at Resurrection and others, including my own team, are out in homes.  As we speak, my team is painting the trim, ceiling, and floor of a screened-in front porch of an older house in town."

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 1:11 p.m. on April 6, 2006

Audio of Wednesday's homily (...or not)

Last night I posted a homily that I claimed (and thought) was from Wednesday night, but apparently it was Monday night's homily. So we'll wait and see if I get the REAL Wednesday night homily.

Officially, I take full blame for the mistake. Unofficially, someone in Biloxi totally sent me the wrong file and it's totally her fault. Unofficially, of course.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 1:11 p.m. on April 7, 2006

More photos likely this evening

I spoke with Katie on the phone today and she said that she's got a bunch of photos to send along that she will probably be able to get to tonight.

Tomorrow, the youth will start the journey back home to Indiana -- and Katie hopes to be able to send some more stuff from the road.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 5:06 p.m. on April 7, 2006

Two homilies

Here are (fingers crossed) the homilies from Wednesday and Thursday, both in mp3 format, as the others were.

Wednesday Homily    |   Thursday Homily

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:06 p.m. on April 7, 2006

A talent show

Beacause the next two photo posts are so different, I'm going to put them in two different headings.

This first set is more light-hearted: a talent show on Thursday night.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:10 p.m. on April 7, 2006

A school destroyed and unrepairable

This next set of pictures is from a tour that the young people took (on Thursday, I believe). Here is Katie's brief introduction:

"We went to Mercy Cross High School, a Catholic high school which is right off the coast in Biloxi.  The school building cannot be used again, but was open for people to walk in.  We went and walked through the halls.  It was a pretty powerful experience and these pictures say a lot.  The students took it pretty hard because they related so easily to what they were seeing.  The sad thing was that other high schools -- apparently their rival schools -- had written graffiti all over the walls." 

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:16 p.m. on April 7, 2006

Friday nights photos

Friday night was apparently a busy one. The desciption from Katie is below, followed by the photos:

"Friday night the group went to the cathedral of the Biloxi diocese for the Stations of the Cross.  The local bishop, Bishop Thomas Rodi, welcomed us.  Following the stations, we had reservations at a local restaurant in Pascagoula.  (We ate fish and shrimp, of course, since it is a Friday during Lent.)  We then headed back to the gym to clean up and pack our belonging for departure in the morning.

The week of service concluded with a slide show of photos from the week, witnesses from the youth and a short exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Father Meyer gave a short explanation about Saint Francis and how he was told by Jesus to, 'Rebuild my Church.'  The youth were each given San Damiano crosses by their team leaders to remind them all to do their part." 

Prayer at the Cathedral

Last evening in Mississippi

Final prayers

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:37 a.m. on April 8, 2006

Heading for home

Katie said that the group left Mississippi around 7 a.m. and are now on their way back to Our Lady of the Greenwood parish with an expected arrival time of 9 p.m. She also sent a few pictures of the happy campers getting ready to go in the early morning.

I wonder how they'll like our weather today -- high of 50 and low of 32 -- compared to that of Biloxi? Where they are leaving the expected low is the same as our high, and the high there will be nearly 80 degrees! Still, home is home...

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:47 a.m. on April 8, 2006

Another group shot

Here's another group shot that was taken (it seems) in front of the Cathedral in Biloxi. If you click on the image to the right you'll get a medium to small sized image, and if you click below you'll get the full-sized image. Sorry if the picture is a bit grainy -- I had to remove the high-quality settings on the digital camera to make the files suitable for e-mailing.

Large image

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 11:55 a.m. on April 8, 2006

On the road again...

Before her laptop battery totally dies, Katie sent me a couple of photos from the road. A couple of hours ago they were in northern Alabama.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 3:21 p.m. on April 8, 2006

Running late

As all the parents probably know by now, the group is running late due to heavy traffic, accidents, road construction, etc. Katie just called me (it's about 10 p.m. now) and told me that her group is about 25 miles into Indiana. All the groups are meeting up in Columbus and then continuing to Greenwood.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:59 p.m. on April 8, 2006

Arrival in Indiana

Since I've gotten an e-mail from on young person who was one the trip, I will assume that everyone got back safe. Katie did tell me that that she has a few more things to send me, so I will post them whenever I get them.

Check back here in the coming days for any other posts that may come.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 1:22 a.m. on April 9, 2006

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