Work Camp

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

July 24, 2007


            Teenagers will surprise you. They will surprise you in a good way. They will surprise you with grace.

            My parish certainly was surprised by grace this past week when we hosted more than 200 teens and their chaperones in a Catholic Heart Work Camp.

            They occupied every square inch of our campus for a week. They came from 11 parishes in eight different states from Texas to New Jersey. Led by the Church, they came to a little town in Maryland that they had never heard of and probably would never see again.

            They came to learn something about the faith and in the process they taught us something about the faith.

            Christianity is not a complicated religion.

            Jesus said there are basically only two rules; love of God and love of neighbor. “On these depend the whole law and the prophets as well,” says Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.

            The teens learned about love of neighbor by doing 46 community service projects like painting the local crisis pregnancy center and cleaning up yards for the elderly.

            The learned about love of God by prayer. They had mass, morning prayer, rosary, Eucharistic adoration, faith witness talks and one on one prayer time.

            Just the process of hosting 200 teens did something to our parish community. It energized us.

            We had so many people who wanted to be involved in the Work Camp that we had to turn away volunteers. Parishioners came out to clean the bathrooms, empty the trash, and cook the meals. They lined up the projects and helped the work crews find their way and learn to use the tools.

            The relationship between the teens and my parish was a grace.

            From the teens we learned joy, enthusiasm, spontaneity, and energy.

            From the parish we learned commitment, service, and hospitality.

            There were two overwhelming spiritual moments for us that I wish could be replicated in every parish.

            One was the “four corners” evening when the teens came to pray in the four corners of our gym for reconciliation, healing, peace and prayer for others. The lesson was the power and the value of prayer. Teens desperately need a place to take their anxiety and worry. They took it to God.

            After the four corners they went onto our soccer field where we had set up Tiki torches, like some episode of “Survivor.”  There the teens shared their worries and hopes with the other members of their parish youth groups. They asked for prayer and found what St. Paul called, “consolation in Christ.”

            On another evening we had Eucharistic adoration. It was adoration like nothing we’ve had before.

            After a couple of hours of high energy praise and worship, the musicians quieted the youth down with a chant. Then in the dark we walked from our parish theater to the church along a quarter mile path lit only by candles. The luminaries had a way of turning energy to reflection.

            By the time we got to the church there was silence. Then we started adoration. Two hours of sitting, kneeling, lying in silence in the church in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It was lit only by four candles and a pin-point spot light on the exposed Eucharist.

            In this I-pod generation, teens crave a moment of reflection, silence and prayer.

            They were blown away by the power of silent prayer in the presence of God. One floppy-haired, baggy-pants boy came up to me afterward and said, “Father man, that was totally awesome.”

            It was awesome. Made more awesome by the generous, joyful, good-hearted youth who graced our parish for a week.

            Teens will surprise you. In a good way.