Teens in Texas go through a transformative hands-on experience
This past June, during the Eucharistic Congress of the Diocese of Corpus Christi in Texas, a new initiative for the youth of the diocese was launched: “Let’s Color Our Community.” A similar event was held the prior year at the parish of Holy Family, where teens and adults experienced the beauty of living the Gospel together while going out and serving the needs of the local community.
What was new this year was to involve the entire diocese and other youth ministers in doing this together. To prepare for this major event, a core group was formed of young adults and volunteers from four parishes, and the University Newman Center.
“Let’s Color Our Community” was inspired by “Let’s Color our City,” a Focolare initiative for teens, and was adopted as the model for the youth track of the Eucharistic Congress. It is meant as an invitation to go out and bring the love and light of the Gospel to the “gray” areas of our world; those places marked by negativity. We experience it both as individuals and as a community: isolation, anxiety, conflict, selfishness, injustice, hunger, etc.
The Eucharistic Congress, held at the downtown Omni Hotel in Corpus Christi, opened and closed with adults and teens all together. The day started with a solemn mass, and a beautiful moment of adoration closed it. What happened in between those two events in the teen program was quite different from the rest of the mainstream schedule.
The “youth track” group, a total of 70 people, split into two groups and left the hotel in midmorning. One group went to meet the clients of the Mother Teresa Shelter, a day shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness.
The other half worked with the Catholic Charities’ community, where the youth interacted with people through different ministries: from the “Food Pantry” to the “Parents as Teachers” program, as well as the Ministry for Persons with Disabilities.
The Gospel was the only tool able to equip all the participants individually and as a group for the challenge at hand. Before leaving the hotel, each of the teams had time to play and connect with each other.
They reflected on the words that were proposed to guide their hearts, minds and hands that day, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34) and “You did it to me” (Mt 25:45). These words of Jesus gave the measure, the how, and the motivation to start practicing this love between teammates, with their group leaders, and the new neighbors that they were about to meet.
A teen reflecting back on the day noticed that practicing this made a difference in his day, “When I remembered the words of Jesus ‘Love one another’ I was able to talk to new people.”
This experience was about participating in God’s love by being a recipient and an agent of it at the same time. Focolare founder Chiara Lubich’s words offered some wisdom to inform the relationships that the group was set to build within and outside the hotel’s walls.
“The person next to me was created as a gift for me, and I was created as a gift for the person next to me.”
They aimed to see the clients of Mother Teresa Shelter and the people at Catholic Charities as neighbors who were a gift to them and not only as the beneficiaries of their volunteer work.
“I saw Jesus in another person when one of Mother Teresa’s clients decided to help us pack the things that we had brought to serve,” one teen shared.
“Going to help out with the people with disabilities was a situation in which it was easy to recognize Jesus’ presence!” said Priscilla Pena, 16. “To see everyone so faithful and not wanting to give up was one of the best things I’ve seen. To get to know some of them as individuals was the highlight of my day!”
Now, the collaboration among the youth ministers who participated continues and remains open to other youth groups or teens that would like to join.
That day, there was the sense that the “body of Christ” was healthy and strong, because we all worked together and contributed the different gifts that each had received. The experience of communion continues, and many people are excited to see where it leads.
Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.
Chiara Lubich explains the essence of Focolare's spirituality
Movie review of The Mission