April 23, 2014
When I was in high school, I was very involved in just about any club or group that would take me: speech, newspaper, liturgy, choir, and language club. I loved working and being involved any way I could…and then counted the days until vacation, when I could rest!
I am experiencing a very different high school experience in the ten students from Mater Dei High School in the Diocese of Orange, who have taken their Easter break to come to Fresno and serve others rather than relax in the sun! These amazing teens reported to school Easter morning and began their five hour trek to Fresno, pausing in Bakersfield for lunch. They spend Monday evening in prayer, then pumping soccer and basketballs to give away to children. Tuesday morning they were up with the sun, serving breakfast to the homeless and poor in Madera, and then they spend the afternoon and evening at a site in Caruthers, helping with the Family Catechesis and speaking to families. They brought toiletries and gifts to a Men’s camp in the same area. Today, Wednesday, they left early in the morning for another camp here in Fresno, where we toured the living areas of the workers, and then built benches and tables for their community to use during their catechesis. Tomorrow they head to Seville, where they will clean up the area where a mission church burned down years ago, and left behind a vacant, overgrown lot. Finally, Friday morning, they head home, to have a weekend of rest before going back to school on Monday.
There are two very remarkable things about this adventure that I have been on with these students.
One is their commitment to service. They take seriously the call to go out to the people and find out their needs; essentially, they are learning how to smell like the sheep. They came back from feeding the homeless with an energy and excitement at meeting new people. Watching them step out of their comfort zones to cut and sand wood, use power tools, and learn to stain benches was wonderful to watch. With the guidance of their chaplain, teacher, principal, and campus ministry director, who also join in the service, they experienced the part of leadership that can only be taught by action: everyone gets involved and everyone gets dirty. The adults on this trip do not sit back and watch, but participate, build, serve, and teach. Their commitment is contagious, and these young people are learning a more valuable lesson that can be taught in any classroom.
The second thing is their wonderful curiosity. They are not afraid to ask questions of the people they meet to find out what life is really like for these workers of the field. And the people have been very open and honest with them. Seeing the small homes they live in, yet experiencing firsthand the generosity and hospitality of the people is amazing. They learned about the crops and how people are at the mercy of the seasons and the weather. They asked about how far they have to travel to work. They drove through fields and saw the dust flying up and getting in their eyes.
We have one more day to go, but it has been an awesome experience with these students. Their energy is boundless, and they are open to any service, from picking up trash to building benches, to working with children, they have shown their true Christian spirit and been an embodiment of what our Holy Father is calling us to do…serve and love one another.
A special thanks to Mater Dei High School for the great opportunity they give their students, and to the devoted staff members who make it a reality.