Tagged: Service

College Students Living and Serving in Camden This Summer

The final line from Sunday’s Good Samaritan Gospel passage is clear in its challenge: “Go and do likewise.”

Seventeen Catholic college students have been striving to answer that call in Camden this summer, living in the city and serving with various community organizations.

The eight students pictured below are spending their entire summer in the city, and nine other students have spent portions of  the summer in Camden interning through DeSales Service Works.
photo (18)

Back row, L to R:

Rob T.; Smithtown, NY; Molloy College. Serving with Romero Center Ministries‘ Urban Challenge Leadership Program.

Annie M.; Harrisburg, Penn.; St. Joseph’s University. Serving with Romero Center Ministries.

Colleen R.; Yorktown, NY; University of Notre Dame. Serving with St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

Colleen M.; Lakewood, Ohio; University of Notre Dame. Serving with St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

Vinh L.; Harvey, La.; University of Notre Dame. Serving with Romero Center Ministries.

Front row, L to R:

Emily M.; Wellesley, Mass.; Villanova University. Serving with Romero Center Ministries.

Karin M.; Memphis, Tenn.; University of Notre Dame. Serving with St. Anthony of Padua Parish.

Christine C.; Cherry Hill, NJ; University of Dayton. Serving with Romero Center Ministries.

Students serving with Romero Center Ministries’ Urban Challenge Leadership Program (UCLP) help to lead high school-aged participants through the Urban Challenge Program — week-long sessions of service, social justice education, prayer, and reflection.

Students at St. Anthony of Padua Parish, here through Notre Dame’s Summer Service Learning Program, serve in a wide range of ministries at one of Camden’s urban parishes.

The Ampersand caught up with Annie M. and asked her about the summer so far.

Ampersand: So what has your group in the UCLP been up to this summer?

Annie: The work that we are doing at the Romero Center has allowed us to be more involved in the Urban Challenge program than I would have imagined. We are given the amazing opportunity to facilitate nightly reflections that allow the students to see and vocalize what their experiences in Camden have been in a different and beyond-the-surface way. We also play a main role in organizing weekly barbecues that bring the L.U.C.Y. youth (low-income youth aged 12-19 who gather for diverse programming in the Romero Center basement) and the Urban Challenge participants together. Additionally, we play a number of smaller roles such as cooking meals, managing the Facebook page, and organizing a game night for the Urban Challenge students. Additionally, we have been intentionally growing community with each other throughout the summer.

What is one thing you’ve grown to love about Camden this summer?

I’ve always loved the multicultural aspect of Camden; you can easily find a “tienda” and a Vietnamese restaurant on the same street. Throughout the day, the streets are bumped by the tunes of reggaeton, and Spanglish conversations reach my ears daily. I love living in the simultaneous diversity and togetherness of this community.

What is one thing you’ve learned that will stick with you into the future?

I’ve learned the power of a relationship. A relationship involves two people who view each other equal in their human dignity; one is not there to “save” the other, and one is not there to be “saved.” Wanting only for presence and company, both are there because they are totally for and with the other person.

Three Thoughts on Sunday’s Gospel: The Good Samaritan

This Sunday’s Gospel passage is an all-time classic: the story of the Good Samaritan.

There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,
“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?
How do you read it?”
He said in reply,
You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all your strength,
and with all your mind,
and your neighbor as yourself.”

He replied to him, “You have answered correctly;
do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied,
“A man fell victim to robbers
as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.
A priest happened to be going down that road,
but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
Likewise a Levite came to the place,
and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side.
But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him
was moved with compassion at the sight.
He approached the victim,
poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.
Then he lifted him up on his own animal,
took him to an inn, and cared for him.
The next day he took out two silver coins
and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction,
‘Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.’
Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

“The Good Samaritan” by Malaika Favorite

Here are three thoughts popping around this time through the Lectionary:

1) This passage sends us out…

I watched a webinar yesterday with Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith Ministries, which offers the best Catholic social teaching formation programs in the world. Jack loves to talk about the two major functions of parishes, which he derives from the ministry of Christ: gathering and sending. Our churches gather people in for liturgy and prayer, education and formation, social events, and more. We often spend most of our time and resources on these gatherings. But parishes are also meant to send us out to live the Gospel mission in the world, especially with and for those who are most vulnerable in society.

We’re not always that great at sending. Jack wonders what it would look like if we spent half our parish budgets, half our buildings, half our time, half our parish staffs on gathering, and precisely half on sending people out.

This passage is one of the best examples of “sending-out Scripture.” Jesus gathers his followers and other interested folks, gives a striking example of what it means to love your neighbor, and then tells them to get moving: “Go and do likewise.”

2) …to get uncomfortable…

The love Jesus describes in the story is not easy or comfortable. It is inconvenient, dirty, sweaty, expensive, and without immediate reward. And it is exactly this type of love that should characterize Christ’s followers. We have so many examples in our tradition of this type of love: St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, St. Damien of Molokai, more and more. Jack Jezreel points out that if our churches emphasize sending in the spirit of the Good Samaritan story, people will be compelled to voluntarily displace themselves to spend time with those who are poor and marginalized.

Good Samaritan love also calls us to work to change the structures in our world that perpetuate injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about this aspect of the story:

On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

“The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix)” by Vincent van Gogh

3) …and to look for God in the unlikeliest people and places.

In first-century Palestine, Samaritans and Jews were enemies. For a Jewish audience, the idea of a “Good Samaritan” would’ve been unthinkable. Jesus’ intentional usage of a Samaritan in the story, especially after the willful neglect displayed by the Jewish religious leaders who pass by the beaten man, encourages his followers to overcome prejudices and see the face of God in all people. The radical love and service Jesus calls for breaks down barriers and dismisses nobody.

May God give us the courage to take the Good Samaritan story seriously.

“The Good Samaritan” by He Qi

Guest Column: What Sarah Whitman Learned from the Materially Poor

Until recently, Haddon Heights native and St. Rose of Lima parishioner Sarah Whitman worked for an international volunteer program provider called ProWorld Service Corps. ProWorld has sites in several countries throughout the world, and at each of their locations, a group of local staffers coordinate volunteer experiences for high school and college students hailing from the United States. The work that ProWorld does is chosen based on community input, sustainable outcomes, and the cultivation of global citizens.

Sarah’s work with ProWorld was mostly in sales, but during the past two summers, she served as a support staff member. Sarah spent the summer of 2011 in Cusco, Peru and the summer of 2012 in Punta Gorda, Belize. Typically, her tasks involved serving as an unofficial counselor for students volunteering onsite and serving as a liaison between ProWorld and the greater communities of Cusco and Punta Gorda. “My experiences helped me to better (not fully, but better) understand the many types of poverty (physical, mental, spiritual, financial…) that exist in the world, and the meaning of God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves,” she writes. Sarah was kind enough to share a blog entry that she wrote while in Belize last summer.

To read more, visit her blogs at www.sarahperuana.blogspot.com and www.belizeyoume.wordpress.org. You can contact her at whitmanse [at] gmail [dot] com.


Be Yourself!

June 13, 2012

In my reading today, I came across a quote by Catherine of Siena. She said, “If you are what you should be you will set the whole world on fire.” What an incredible idea…that, simply by being our most authentic selves, we can start a revolution! So many of us wonder whether our lives have purpose (and if they do, what that purpose is), but Catherine reminds us of our capacity to be extraordinary simply be being the best version of ourselves! Could it really be that simple?

I find that in my travels with ProWorld, I am given the opportunity to meet and befriend many extraordinary people, who often possess beautiful gifts and specialized knowledge. Sometimes, I find myself envying someone else’s passion for keeping our planet green, or someone’s ability to stay energetic for seemingly endless hours in tropical heat, or perhaps someone’s knowledge of healthcare and healing. It’s very easy to focus on what we lack, or where we’ve failed, but imagine the good that could come from using that time spent moping to instead hone and practice the gifts that we do possess.

Sometimes, I find it really hard to be the best version of myself. On a long, hot bus ride, for example, I might not be inclined to respond enthusiastically to a conversation started by the person sitting beside me. Yet for the small price of my enthusiastic response, I can fulfill Mother Teresa’s command to “let no one come to me without leaving happier.” What’s worth more? Being exhausted and crabby, or spreading love and joy?

Choosing to be my best self every moment of every day is obviously easier said than done, but if Catherine of Siena’s words are right, then I’m pretty sure it’s well worth the effort!


Therefore, dearest readers, I challenge y’all today to think about what your best version of yourself would look like. What would “Super You” do?  Which of your talents are underutilized?  I often think about how funny it is that some people aspire to be dentists. In my mind, being a dentist would be the worst! Spending all day looking into peoples’ mouths and prodding their gums and smelling their breath? No gracias. And yet there are people who find dentistry fascinating and are excited to help make beautiful smiles, and I’m glad that they exist for the sake of the world’s teeth! What a riot, that both the aspiring dentist and I come from the same beginnings and yet offer such different takes on the world. We exist in beautiful, beautiful diversity, and I think that it is our uniqueness that really makes Catherine of Sienna’s words sing to me. If we all become “what we should be,” nothing will stop us from rocking the world!

Shore Season Begins, Sandy Recovery Continues: Diocese of Camden’s Catholic Charities’ Response by the Numbers

The unofficial summer season gets off to a chilly and breezy start this Memorial Day Weekend after the most challenging, tragic, and tumultuous six months in Jersey Shore history.

Since it became clear in late October that Hurricane Sandy was headed straight for New Jersey, the Diocese of Camden’s Catholic Charities has been tireless in its response to the storm. The work continues steadily today, shifting from relief to recovery.

Catholic Charities employees Brandon, left, and Mark during Sandy relief efforts.

Catholic Charities employees Brandon, left, and Mark during Sandy relief efforts.

Statistics provided by Camden’s Catholic Charities  are simultaneously sobering and inspiring. It’s heartbreaking to think of so many lives broken. But we are also so proud of the work of Catholic Charities in the face of tragedy. This is what the Church does. This is who we are.

Immediately after the storm, Catholic Charities set up two distribution centers near the shore.

  • 136,000 pounds of food and supplies were distributed
  • 15,000 individuals were assisted
  • 392 volunteers participated
Catholic Charities volunteers.

Catholic Charities volunteers.

As weeks passed, the response from diocesan parishes and dioceses all over the country was robust:

  • Almost $300,000 received in donations from diocesan parishes
  • More than $350,000 received from dioceses across the country
  • $225,000 spent in assistance
  • Over 150 families received financial support
  • More than 50 have received case management

The need for recovery work continues. While 31,000 FEMA applications for aid were submitted by residents of the diocese, Catholic Charities estimates 5000 people here will have unmet needs. The storm’s damage to the shore’s robust hospitality industry cost many people jobs — many of whom are undocumented immigrants. (Catholic Charities reports that New Jersey’s proportion of undocumented immigrants in the workforce ranks fifth in the nation.)

So as you prepare to head to the shore this weekend or in the coming months, take a minute to donate to the recovery efforts, and say a prayer for all victims of natural disasters:
Compassionate Lord, we pray for those who have been devastated by Hurricane Sandy and all natural disasters.
We remember those who have lost their lives so suddenly. We hold in our hearts the families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them consolation and comfort. Surround them with our prayers for strength.
Bless those who have survived and heal their memories of trauma and devastation. May they have the courage to face the long road of rebuilding ahead.We ask your blessing on all those who have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their security and their hope.
Bless the work of relief agencies and those providing emergency assistance. May their work be guided by the grace and strength that comes from You alone.Help us to respond with generosity in prayer, in assistance, in aid to the best of our abilities. Keep our hearts focused on the needs of those affected, even after the crisis is over. Amen–A prayer by Sr. Katherine Feely, SND via Education for Justice’s “Prayer Service in Times of Natural Disaster” (adapted)

Guest Column: Ryan O’Connor’s Peace Corps Experience

Ryan O’Connor is the pastoral associate for youth faith formation at the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill. After graduating from Villanova in 2008, Ryan spent two years in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer. He looked back at his journal from that time and wrote this reflection for The Ampersand. His experience is a reminder that if our faith communities take the Gospel seriously, some of us will find ourselves called to voluntary displacement.

Ryan with a group of children in Talanga, Honduras.

Ryan with a group of children in Talanga, Honduras.

As I revisit my journal from my Honduras experience as a Youth Development Peace Corps Volunteer, where I served more than two years ago, I observe the prayers I wrote in Spanish and the ordinary depictions of un día en el pueblo de La Concepción, Intibuca, Honduras. I warmly recall each day being deeply filled with God’s grace. Was it really any different from any of my days back at home? Or did the people of Honduras help me to slow down and notice God’s grace in every small moment?

I learned a new language, and then I learned a new way of listening, of storytelling, of joking and receiving a joke. I learned a new culture and grappled with blending new beliefs and lifestyles with what had already been conditioned within me.

Although the community quickly felt like home, there were many unfamiliar experiences along the way. With a group of 10 year-olds, a slingshot and a handful of pebbles, I learned how to hunt iguanas. With bleeding elbows and knees, I learned how to walk off the field after each “friendly” men’s soccer game. It became clear that everyone wanted to play up close and personal against the gringo. With two weeks of disorientation and the sensation of my bones crumbling beneath my skin, I learned why dengue fever was known as the “breakbone” fever. Poisonous snakes that would have killed me within an hour of their bite, gunshots around the block, witnessing a bullet traveling through a man’s chest – these are the stories family and friends were enthralled to hear upon my return.

After a muddy soccer game.

After a muddy soccer game.

But I would like to share with you a greater part of the journey.

There is one particular conversation that was near to my heart all throughout my Peace Corps experience. Actually, I still return to its wisdom with each day.

I had just arrived at the quaint, wooden house of my second host family, tucked within the beautiful mountainside of a small town called Zarabanda. My host papi was an incredibly intelligent engineer who had worked as a farmer in Arkansas, lived for a year in Japan and had traveled much of the world. He helped me develop mis oidos (my hearing) for the Spanish language by listening to folk music. He immersed me in every detail of ordinary life. He brought me along every family or friend gathering. He even allowed me to be his apprentice in the yard when he was working on small projects.

One evening, during dinner, he looked at me and asked, “Ryan, why are you here in Honduras? How do you plan on helping the people here?”

Feeling confident from my recent Peace Corps training classes and convinced of my purpose as a volunteer, I responded in a classic textbook fashion, “Well, I believe I am here as Youth Development Volunteer in order to raise the local capacity of youth leaders in the village and support the development of successful youth programs, which will last long after my volunteer term is finished.”

He gently smiled at me, and then spoke words I would never forget.

“You will not make any positive change here by attempting to change these people. The youth leaders would still be youth leaders, even if you were never to step foot in their village. If you do one thing during your time in Honduras, do only this: Learn more about yourself – focus on self-awareness – allow yourself to be changed by your many experiences and interactions you will share with various new people. If you do nothing else than this, I promise you, you will have reached a higher goal then the one set for you by your ‘program’.”

Just a week later, when I arrived in the village of La Concepcion, Intibuca, where I had been assigned to serve as the “trusted and qualified” youth expert – my previous host papi’s words continued to resound in my heart. There wasn’t a day that passed that I did not question my role there as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Was what I was a part of really helping this village? Was it really sustainable? As I built many relationships within the community, God continued to shatter my previously held expectations. This village was beautiful and thriving with community life. Every neighbor greeted each other in the morning on the way to work or school. They spent time with neighbors for an afternoon coffee and bread descanso (rest). They even toured the blocks at night to catch up on the latest chisme (gossip) of the day (which sounded very much like it did the day before). I slowly discovered that they did not see themselves as poor. It was simply a matter of perspective. They had a roof over their head and a means to provide food on their table. On the other hand, they described the poor as those living in the aldeas (smaller towns on the outskirts of the town) which consisted of little huts barely holding onto the mountainside.

There was a very poignant moment during my time in Honduras when I realized what I was not there to do. I was not there to carry out an array of objectives set by Westerners who designed the training of Peace Corps. I was not there to hand out manuals of “correct” styles of teaching –  which were also written by Westerners. I was not there to put sustainable youth programs in motion – when non-traditional youth programs were already alive and well. Everything I expected to accomplish and everything I expected to do during my time in Honduras was appropriately flipped upside down. I expected to be with the poor and suffer and provide many forms of assistance.

The truth is – I was the poor guest they spent time with, who they fed with rich foods, who they nourished with genuine love and hospitality, who they looked out for with each step I took on their beloved land, who they sacrificed for to make me feel more at home. Ultimately, they gave me a gift that has only continued to grow. They guided me to a new perspective on being with people and a new self-awareness on who I truly am. I became convinced that “success” for a volunteer needed to be redefined.

Real success for me was all about my “being with” and not dependent upon my “doing” or “implementing”. By simply being with the people and practicing the ministry of presence, my heart was now ready to listen without being preoccupied with what task I had to get done next.

As Robert J. Wicks puts it in his book Prayerfulness, by developing a “grateful readiness”   (p. 31), I was able to receive the spirit of hospitality and the perspective of life’s simple gifts. For one of the first times in my life, I learned how to receive gracefully and that there is so much more to give, when it is not based on my terms of “giving”. Pride, anxiety, confusion and frustration could now trickle out of my heart.

Each afternoon, I would run along the mountain trails towards the aldeas with my heart pounding while I climbed the hills. I knew whoever I met along the way was a special part of my day and a special part of my journey. After I stopped to talk with whoever I crossed along the path, I would take una respiracion profundo (a deep breath) and fill my lungs with nothing other than “grateful readiness”, anticipating the next blessing around the bend.

ryan talanga 032

Holy Thursday: Radical Call to Be Served and to Serve

When I was in second grade, the pastor at our family’s parish invited me to be one of the 12 folks to participate in Holy Thursday’s foot washing. (I think I was invited because spring vacation coincided with Holy Week that year, and my mom had taken me to daily Mass a few mornings during the break.)

This was special and important. I remember almost everything.

My mom called my dad at work to tell him about the invitation, and to suggest, as I listened in, that I be allowed to wear my new Easter shoes for the Thursday liturgy: beautiful blue-suede Pumas.

That night, after the homily, I took a seat near the altar, took off my Pumas, and Fr. Greg washed and dried my feet. He smiled warmly, calmly. This didn’t happen at other Masses.

I think of that night and my 7 year-old sense of curiosity every Holy Thursday. The foot-washing still catches me off-guard when it starts.

Maybe, by saving it for one time a year, it’s meant to jolt us awake and inspire some child-like wonder. By breaking from the norm, the washing signals: this is crucial. Don’t miss this. There’s a big lesson here.

The practice has its biblical roots in tonight’s Gospel reading from John 13. It’s the only Last Supper account of the four that does not have the institution of the Eucharist. Jesus takes no bread, takes no cup, says no blessing.

Instead, during the meal, he gets up, and ties a towel around his waist. He washes the feet of his friends.

Feet in First-Century Palestine must have been disgusting — dirty, blistered, cracked. This sort of washing was the work of servants.

This is where and how Jesus, our Lord and King, wants to spend his time. He goes to places that are ugly. He models love through self-giving service.

Tonight’s foot-washing at church reminds us of how Jesus wants to be involved in our lives.

First, Jesus calls us to himself to be washed: to be cared for and nurtured. How difficult it can be to allow ourselves to be served, to admit that we need help.

Second, Jesus sends us out: serve others as I have served you. “Do this in memory of me,” he says during the other three Gospels’ Last Supper accounts. It applies here as well. We are to go to the margins of our societies, leaving our comfortable places frequently, because that is what Jesus did.

What a powerful example set by Pope Francis today, as he celebrated Mass at a juvenile prison, washing the feet of 12 inmates — young men and women, Catholics and Muslims.

We see in that symbolic action and in the words of Jesus an urgent call to let ourselves be served and to serve. How can we live these commands in our daily lives this coming Easter season?

Pope Francis washes the feet of inmates at a juvenile prison in Rome.

Pope Francis washes the feet of inmates at a juvenile prison in Rome.