Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly




            Every now and then a program comes along that is exactly right for the times.  Recently I participated in such a program, the Catholic Heart Work Camp.

            For a week, three hundred teens, from 11 states, gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, for hard work, joyful prayer, and happy silliness.  I traveled with 23 teens from our parish and nine adult chaperones.  It was one of the best weeks I've ever had, period.

            Catholic Heart Work Camps gather Catholic teens from across the country.   They sleep on the floor of classrooms, pray and play in the gym, and pack lunches for each other in the cafeteria.  During the day they fan out across the sponsoring city to do hard work for those in need.

            The teens come at their own expense, paying the $250 cost plus transportation, through fund raisers or out of their own pockets.   

            The fact that it is a "work camp" adds to the bonding that takes place.  At the end of the week they can see their accomplishments.  Our teens did landscaping work in the 95 degree Tennessee heat. They built a rock wall behind eight new houses for Habitat for Humanity.   They cleaned out the yard of a home for the mentally disabled, moved the possessions of a lady who had been burned out of her apartment, sorted food at a food bank, washed dishes, organized clothing, picked up litter,  built porches and painted houses.

             They had long days.  They rose at 6:30 AM.  Everything was filled with prayer.  They prayed together after breakfast.  They had shared prayer on the way to the job site.  They prayed after lunch and shared their prayers, usually sitting under a tree at the job site.  After they returned to the school, showered, and had supper, they had evening programs, beginning and ending with prayer.

            The evening programs were high energy, with the kind of loud, pulsating music everyone loves when they are young.  But the words and the message were straight from the gospel.  In addition to music, there were skits, hymn singing,  mime, contests,  witness talks and masses.  One evening we had nine priests in to hear confessions.  It took several hours.  Tears flowed freely as the teens talked abut some of their sins and worries.

            When I read the schedule in the brochure, I thought, "Oh, they are going to hate this."   But I was wrong.  They loved it.           

 I heard comments like, "I didn't want mass to be over."  One boy told me,  "This camp changed my life."  One boy from our group said, "I was loosing my faith before I came, but I think I got it back at this camp."

            The leaders of the Catholic Heart Work Camps have figured out the teenage mind.  Everything was done in their idiom of T-shirts, baggy clothes, boy meets girl contests, and dance, dance, dance.  We hardly ever sat down.  The teens don't mind participating because it is their culture. 

            For example, one continuing appearance throughout the week was the fight between good and evil symbolized by a counselor dressed like a professional wrestler, big belt and all.  The last night they opened with the "Are you ready to rumble?" call that opens professional wrestling.  The whole stands were on their feet, cheering for good over evil.  One of the counselors, a young woman, came out in a giant summo wrestler's padded suit and took on the evil one.  She literally crushed him.  The kids were in hysterics.  So was I.  But the message got across.  Good triumphs over evil, grace over sin.

            The work camps were started 7 years ago in Orlando, Florida, by a couple, Lisa and Steve Walker.    In their first year only 100 young people participated.  This year over 3,500 youth in 14 cities will go to Catholic Heart Work Camp.  Next year 16 dioceses will sponsor camps.  This is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  A real change in lives.

We saw the first fruits of the week almost immediately.  On the bus coming back from Nashville,  traffic on the interstate came to a stop behind an accident.  One of our young men  came to the front of the bus and suggested we say the rosary.  Later, when we were delayed again by a rain storm, the teens started singing hymns they had learned that week.

When the bus arrived back at the church parking lot, our driver refused a tip.  He said he was impressed with the faith of the youth he had seen on his bus. He didn't want money, but he did want a Bible.  Score one for our teens and the Catholic Heart Work Camp.



For more information on the Catholic Heart Workcamps, or to register for one of next year's camps, call the Catholic Heart headquarters in Orlando, Fla. at 407-678-0073.