How often does anyone really think about getting a glass of water or taking a bath?
Approximately a dozen teens, mostly from St. Clement of Rome’s CYO, experienced a little humility and a reality check about what’s taken for granted in America Feb. 23 by participating in a 10-hour Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Food Fast. They learned that life is not so simple for people in other countries.
The day began with prayer, followed by a discussion of why they were there. The teens learned the significance of fasting and how it relates to Lent and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and heard a talk by Presentation Sister Vera Butler about the Harry Tompson Center, a day-time haven for the homeless and the poor.
They attended Mass, watched a CRS video on how making fresh water available has changed the lives of people in Madagascar and participated in an exercise simulating the daily struggles people in third-world countries have getting water for their families. They also made sandwiches for those frequenting the Harry Tompson Center.
“It’s powerful, and although we are not eating, we are filled with Christ,” Laura Jaen, St. Clement CYO, said. “Christ fasted for 40 days. We are following in his footsteps.”
“It’s inspirational just thinking about how we’re here, not eating, and it’s just a one-day thing,” Colleen Heneghan, St. Clement CYO member, said. “For other people, it’s a daily struggle. It’s very powerful that we take everything for granted.”
Talk was powerful
Sister Vera’s talk about the Harry Tompson Center at St. Joseph Church and the Presentation Sisters’ ongoing role in it opened a few eyes about homelessness and low-income seniors in New Orleans.
“Her message was so powerful,” said Teresa Bruno, a St. Matthew CYO member who was familiar with Sister Vera’s mission because her CYO collects toiletries for it. “She told us about how important it is to be present to the homeless, to support them, to talk to them and find out their stories. She also talked about how everyone is a child of God. She made me realize that Social Security doesn’t even cover what seniors need. A lot of elderly come to the Harry Tompson Center.”
By 5:30 p.m. when the “Carry My Bucket” exercise to get water ensued, participants had just attended Mass and felt energized to continue to the end.
Each of the groups represented a different family in various countries, each having separate water needs. CYO members could only retrieve water one cup full at a time and had to return to the simulated well many times during the exercise.
“It’s a lot more difficult,” David Miranda said about the water exercise. “Our being hungry added to the whole experience. It makes it more real.”
Claire Gallagher, St. Clement’s director of religious education and youth ministry, had learned about CRS’ day of fasting at a youth conference and decided it would be something enlightening for her teen group.
“I wanted to give them an opportunity to experience life outside the little bubble they are in,” said Gallagher, who was assisted by Jennifer Merritt and Andrea Thibodeaux. “I wanted to break them out of that comfort zone and experience real hunger while learning about all these issues. I think (Sister Vera’s talk) helped break their perception (of ignoring the homeless).”
David Lawrence, who was teamed with Miranda and helped set up the day, gained a new perspective on the plight of others less fortunate than himself.
“It was a lot more than I thought,” Lawrence said. “I thought it was more spiritual.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.