Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For almost twenty years, young people involved in our parish high school youth ministry have volunteered a week of their summer vacation for a service trip, assisting people in need in a variety of places. They carry out this mission work with Catholic Heart Workcamp (CHWC), a youth service organization that enables teens to engage in short-term service trips all over the United States. In addition to daily work on behalf of those in need, CHWC provides our young people the opportunity to engage their Catholic faith in meaningful ways, encounter Jesus in the Mass, in Eucharistic Adoration, in Confession, and in fellowship with one another. At each camp, they join a group of around 300 teens from various states who come together to offer their hands in Christian service. Past service trips have brought our teens to serve in Pittsburgh, PA, Lancaster, PA, Boston, MA, Groton, MA, and Nashville, TN.
Today our teens leave for their annual Catholic Heart Workcamp experience, though they will not have far to travel – our camp this year is being held at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull. Some last minute changes necessitated a closer-to-home CHWC week this year. The participating teens will serve in the city of Bridgeport, as well as towns here in our area. Just as they have experienced the ways in which people are in need in past camps, they will be able to serve the needs of people right here in our own backyard.
I’ve been asked many times why we send our kids out for their mission trip, given the obvious needs in our own area. Very simply, it’s not only about the service! The whole package matters. The time spent traveling to and from the Catholic Heart Workcamp location and the time away from home at some geographical distance puts them in a different frame of mind. Distance from their normal environment and daily concerns opens eyes and hearts to a fresh way of thinking and experiencing love for God and neighbor. This new way of seeing enables them to return home with a fresh outlook on serving in their own community. Sometimes I am asked why we don’t do the Appalachian Service Trip with Greenfield Hill Congregational Church. With due respect for the outstanding work that young people from Fairfield have done for years through that trip, and the impact it has both on those who are served and those who serve, our participation in CHWC is because of the direct, explicit inclusion of the Catholic faith and the sacraments in every aspect of the mission experience. In fact, Catholic Heart Workcamp was established precisely because the founder, Steve Walker, was struggling to find service opportunities for his Catholic youth group. When they joined Protestant groups, they were looked at strangely for their insistence on going to Mass on Sunday. Steve began to recognize that the broad-spectrum understanding of Christian service was foundational, but the sacramental life of the Catholic Church took that service foundation to an entirely different level. At CHWC, our students have Mass every day, moments of prayer during their workday, and opportunities to engage their faith even as they serve those less fortunate. The goal of all youth ministry and faith formation here at St. Pius X is to help those who participate to integrate their relationship with Jesus Christ and their Catholic faith into every aspect of their lives. As our teens begin their service today, please keep them in your prayers. And think about joining us next summer for CHWC!